How We Got Here

The 2000 election that resulted in a delayed result being declared in Florida had a silver lining. Over the previous two hundred plus years’ American elections had not been accessible to people with disabilities without assistance.
The idea of people with disabilities being able to vote securely, privately and independently had been discussed and actually implemented in one Florida county before the 2000 election. When the determination was made that the nation needed a new voting system based on new technology, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) came into play.

Besides being a matter of equality Title II of the ADA requires that services provided by all government other than the Federal government must provide access to people with disabilities.

At that time, Disability Relations Group Chairman, Doug Towne was working on another project with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and a discussion took place that lead to the formation of a Task Force on Accessible Voting.

No one really knew what accessible voting would or should consist of and the task force was put to work determining this.

Within a year the concepts had been turned into standards, then into state law which lead to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Thousands of advocates, election professionals, elected officials and technology geeks worked on the issue until systems were developed, marketed, sold and installed across the nation. The new law required that every polling place in America had to include at least one accessible voting machine.

Now those systems are ten plus years old and new technology makes more accessibility possible and the cost less using off the shelf hardware.

When the first accessible systems were developed, they were brought by the companies to the disability community who had to choose between six to twelve or more competing systems. People with disabilities were not really in on the development.

Things that could have been done, like accessible absentee voting and election administration systems, were passed over at the time. A lack of funds and time was the reason, even though HAVA makes it clear that the entire election system should be accessible.

Now it is time to start developing the next evolution of accessible and user-friendly voting and election administration systems. This time though VOTEC Corporation and Disability Relations Group have joined forces to launch a national listening campaign to determine what people with all types of disabilities, elders, election professionals and the general public want to see in a new system. This time when the design engineers go to work they will have a road map that will help them develop a system endorsed from the outset by those who will use it.

Contact our staff to learn more about how we got here. Our voting survey is designed to improve accessibility for voters nationwide.