Wednesday, September 19, 2007

News Flash: New York is Part of the United States of America

Today in Newsday, James T. Madore reports on angry elections officials who "slam" a proposed plan to get New York to finally comply with federal requirements for one accessible voting system in every polling place.

The reaction of these officials is hard to fathom. Ballot marking devices ("BMDs"), which have been used throughout the country for years, allow blind and other disabled voters to mark and review ballots independently and privately -- something most cannot do on lever machines, or absentee ballots.

Even better, these BMDs can be used in conjunction with optical scanners -- which counties will eventually be allowed to purchase (when they are certified) to replace lever machines. At that point, able-bodied voters will have the choice of filling out ballots by hand, and then run them through the scanners, or joining disabled voters to use the BMDs to fill out their ballots, and run them through the scanners.

The crux of the argument of those objecting appears to be that compliance with federal law isn't necessary:

"This plan is ridiculous. ... It won't help anybody," said Nassau Elections Commissioner William Biamonte, a Democrat. Many disabled voters have requested absentee ballots rather than travel to use a voting machine, he added.

But having accessible voting machines in every polling place has helped tens of thousands of disabled voters everywhere in the country vote independently and privately for the first time. This represents a huge advance for a community that traditionally has voted in lower numbers than the rest of the country.

Why shouldn't disabled New Yorkers have the same rights as disabled voters everywhere else? The answer is they should. In fact, that's the law, as passed by Congress.

And last we checked, New York was one of fifty states -- obligated to comply with federal law, the same as any other.

UPDATE: This does not mean we support a proposal to turn touchscreen machines into ballot marking devices. We join other good government and civil rights groups groups in opposing such a move, as we made clear in a letter to the State Board yesterday.

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