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Accessible voting experiences

Since 2004, Noel Runyan has kept notes on his experiences as a blind voter. Sometimes the system isn't set up; it has taken him over an hour to vote. He agreed to let me to post these notes as an example of how frustrating it can be.

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Written by DeletedUser

Since 2004, Noel Runyan has written notes on his experiences voting. His district uses a system called Sequoia Edge II. The barriers he encountered are both organizational and the usability of the machine itself. Many of these stories are a strong argument for universal design - that is, for the accessibility features to be available at any time, so that they don't have to be started specially for one voter.

Here's a few highlights, covering elections from 2004 to 2010

Although the folks that ran the polling place were very pleasant and helpful, the accessibility feature would not work. They tried plugging the key pad unit into more than one of the systems and called the tech support desk for help. The "support desk" just asked if they had checked to make sure the cable was plugged in and then said to give up and have someone assist me in voting. They never did get the "accessible keypad" working while I was there.

My own voting experience started, at 7 in the morning, with a one hour wait in the cold, outside our Sunnyoaks fire station. I had to keep my braille reading fingers in my pocket to make sure they would be warm enough for reading my braille notes. Even so, the polling place was so cold that my fingers were having a lot of trouble reading braille near the end of my time at the voting machine.

The polling officers (who were actually very pleasant), didn't know how to reboot the Sequoia Edge II DRE into audio mode, it took them about 18 minutes to get it started talking. Thankfully, my wife read their manual and figured out the audio boot up process for them. After the DRE finally started talking, it took me about 6 minutes to fill out the ballot, 7 minutes to review my vote, and another minute to push it into recording my ballot and finish. Total time in front of the machine, 32 minutes. Luckily it was only a short ballot with 8 easy choices.

... By the time the system printed the paper trail and then spit out my voter ID card, I had spent a total of 59 and a half minutes, nearly an hour, trying to vote privately.

This was the fifth election in which I attempted to vote on a Sequoia Edge II. It took an hour and 17 minutes at the machine, not counting the time in line. This time the poll workers actually knew how to set up the audio mode properly. They told me that they asked for special training on the audio setup in their poll worker training class, because they knew that "a blind engineer" (trouble maker?) was going to be trying to vote there again. This makes only two out of five times that the poll workers have been able to successfully set up the audio voting mode by themselves.

The speech quality actually seems to be worse than before. When switched to the higher speed, it does a chipmunk distortion, rather than using VSC compression to properly increase the speech rate.

This June's primary election was the ninth opportunity I've had to try to vote on the Sequoia Edge II electronic voting machine in actual elections. There was no line when we arrived, so I signed in at 2:22 PM and was soon shown the way back into a fairly private nook among the stacks. At 2:54, more than a half an hour after we started, the voting machine was at last talking and ready for me to start making my audio ballot selections.
At 3:19, I was finished making my selections and ready to review my ballot.

Year by year, I've observed more and more erosion in the quality of training of pollworkers, regarding the "accessible" voting machines, and respect for privacy and good security procedures continues to diminish. In our county, the electronic voting systems have become a segregated, second class balloting system with sadly waning support and reliability. Who can be expected to go to all the trouble of finding their way to a polling place where the "accessible" voting system is not reliable and is not likely to be working?

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Photo of Vincent Cheng

Very informative inspiration Whitney. Really shows how frustrating the accessible voting experience can be without adequate poll worker training, as well as the limitations of the current machines.

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Photo of Paul Reader

This goes to the heart of the matter.
A couple of years ago I was working in a Police and Citizens Youth Centre where they were running a program for 'at risk youth' automobile driving awareness. To allow the kids to gain a better understanding of the risks they engaged the services of a very brave 16 year old quadriplegic girl who could relate from personal experience the possible consequences dangerous driving habits.

As Whitney points out elsewhere bringing disabled people into the process not only as voters but also as team members and trainers would greatly enhance accessibility. Setting up a polling place takes time and effort generally but employing someone like Noel to both test the equipment to ensure it is working properly and then assist others to use it seems a really good investment.

I am not familiar with the specifics of US polling but I imagine that the process of identifying voters and the actual casting of the vote are well separated. Having someone like Noel 'on hand' to assist others would therefore in no way compromise the confidentiality of voting.
Ironically over the six years covered in Noel's notes a comprehensive program of training and consistent assistance could have been developed for adoption around the country.