Voters with disabilities are finally beginning to speak out against the use of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, often known as "touch-screen") voting systems!
After years of DRE supporters, and indeed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, using the canard that blind and disabled voters must use DREs to vote privately and independently, a number of leaders in the disabilities community are speaking out against their having been used as a wedge to force the nationwide implementation of such disenfranchising, dangerous voting systems.
Two different landmark statements on the issue have now been released, The BRAD BLOG has learned. One statement [PDF] released last week by the Disability Law Center and the ACLU speaks in support of the decision by the Massachusetts Secretary of State to approve the use of ballot marking devices, as opposed to DREs, for use by the state's disabled voters.
The second, released today to The BRAD BLOG in advance of Congressional subcommittee hearings tomorrow, is signed so far by more than 20 leaders of the blind and disabled communities and calls for "an immediate ban" on DRE voting systems. Like the release from the Disability Law Center, the newly released statement crushes the long-overused myth that such unsecure, disenfranchising, failed technology is required for disabled access to private, independent voting. (The complete statement is posted at the end of this item.)
"Providing secure voting machines for voters with disabilities is part and parcel of protecting [disabilities voters'] rights to equal access to the ballot and to having their votes reliably counted," said Stanley J. Eicher, Executive Director of the Disability Law Center in their March 5th statement.
"The decision by the Secretary shows that it is both possible and essential to build common ground between the disability rights community and the growing number of citizens who are concerned that many of the proposed new technologies are subject to tampering and error," said Eichner, adding notably, "We must debunk the myth that we have to choose between accessible voting and verifiable voting. Democracy requires that we have both."
The brief but no-uncertain-terms statement today from the disabilities advocates calls for a nationwide ban on the use of DRE technology.
"Electronic ballot systems such as the direct record electronic (DRE) machines...now in use," the statement reads, "have quickly proven to be neither fully accessible to all voters nor secure and accurate methods of recording, tallying, and reporting votes. While the goal of private voting has been achieved by some voters, this has often been without meaningful assurance that our votes have been counted as cast."
The disabilities leaders go on to point out that verification of ballots and the accuracy of their tabulation need not be sacrificed for accessibility or privacy. A similar point was at the heart of a report recently released by one of the letter's authors, blind technology expert Noel H. Runyan. His report, published simultaneously by both Demos and VoterAction.org, concerns the failure of DRE systems to meet both HAVA requirements and the accessibility and verification needs of disabled voters.
The statement further describes DRE electronic balloting systems as "inappropriate for use" and calls on "all disability rights groups, other civil rights groups, election protection groups, and elected officials to recognize the necessity for an immediate ban" on such dangerous, unreliable, and unsecure technology:
We leaders and members of the disability rights community assert that neither accessibility for all voters nor the security of the vote can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Fortunately, true accessibility and election security can both be achieved; there is no inherent incompatibility between voting system accessibility and security.
We recognize that electronic ballot systems are inappropriate for use, because these systems make it impossible for voters to verify that their votes will be counted as cast. We call upon all disability rights groups, other civil rights groups, election protection groups, and elected officials to recognize the necessity for an immediate ban on any voting system that fails to meet the twin requirements of full accessibility and election security.
This new and most welcome statement from this particular community is in stark contrast to the only other major voices previously allowed to testify before Congress on such matters, such as the National Federal for the Blind (NFB) and Jim Dickson of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).
Despite both of those groups having received large donations from voting machine companies such as Diebold, Inc., both have been granted extraordinary access to Congress and have leveraged that access to call for the use of DRE systems for their communities (and even paperless ones at that).
The NFB received $1 million from Diebold, and Jim Dickson's group, although he lied to The BRAD BLOG about it previously, received at least $16,000 from the voting machine vendors, according to the New York Times.
We are happy to see new, uncompromised voices from this important community finally speaking up and adding their concerns to others such as Johns Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin, who testified last week that DRE systems, with or without a so-called "voter verified paper audit trail," are "not a reasonable voting system."
It would be nice if Runyan and some of the other signatories were invited to testify before Congress as well, and equally nice if Congress held hearings devoted to the issue of the safety, accuracy and accessibility of DRE systems before moving forward on Election Reform bills such as Rep. Rush Holt's HR811, which unfortunately falls short of banning DRE technology in American democracy.
NOTE: We will be Guest Hosting Cynthia Black's Action Point this Sunday 3/18/07 @ 3pm ET (12noon PT) on Phoenix's Air America/NovaM affiliate 1480 KPHX. We hope to have Runyan as one of our featured guests.
UPDATE: Here is my interview on on Action Point with Noel Runyan. MP3 appx. 30 minutes
The complete statement from the disabilities leaders, including Runyan and many others, follow in full below...