2012 Candidates respond: election accessibility

October 15, 2012

A few weeks ago, Disability Rights Washington posed questions to the candidates for Secretary of State regarding the accessibility of elections for people with disabilities. Candidates for Secretary of State, Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman, responded accordingly to questions on

Disability Advisory Committees,
Improvements in accessible voting
Captioning TVW and Video Voter's Guide, and
Accessibility of websites

Background: Disability Advisory Committees

Since 2005, state law has required counties to create disability election advisory committees, to help officials improve the accessibility of their elections. Some – but not all - counties support active disability advisory committees, which have identified barriers to voting and many effective and inexpensive solutions. 

Question One: As Secretary of State, what will you do to ensure that all counties develop effective disability advisory committees?

Kathleen Drew's response:  I believe it is important to hold the counties accountable and work closely with them from the beginning to ensure that they develop effective disability advisory committees. If this is a resource problem or a lack of knowledge about how to set one up, I want my office to be there to help them from the get-go. This will be a priority of mine as Secretary of State.

Kim Wyman's response:  I will use my experience leading the Thurston County Accessibility Advisory Committee (VAAC) to ensure every county has access to voter outreach programs for disability communities.  One of the barriers to accessibility committees across the state is finding the resources locally.  I believe the Secretary of State should be filling in the gaps in those areas of the state to insure every person who needs access is served.  I will bring together representatives from each disability community to form a state advisory group to support the overall goal to have resources in every county.  The group will help develop ideas and resources to meet the needs of counties who lack advisory committees.  My goal is to model the state group after the committee we have developed in Thurston County. The state committee would also help expand programs and secure the monies for programs, as the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding expires. 

Question Two:  How will you involve voters with disabilities in the activities of the Election Office of the Secretary of State?

Kathleen Drew's response:  I intend to bring together members of the disabilities community when I am elected to talk about how the Secretary of State can best engage. I believe that members of the community are the experts and I have a lot to learn from them. I will assign at least one member of my office as a liaison to the community so that there is a direct contact to me for feedback, questions or concerns. In particular, I am committed to improving accessibility to elections via the Secretary of State’s website for people with disabilities. Furthermore, there have been more than 180 voters suppression bills that have been introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, including right here in Washington. By requiring proof of citizenship to register, reducing early voting, eliminating Election Day registration, and restricting voter registration drives, these efforts target naturalized citizens,  minorities, seniors, students and people with disabilities.  I’m running for Secretary of State to increase voter turnout for ALL eligible voters and will  fight efforts to suppress voting, especially within our disabilities community.

Kim Wyman's response: Again, I would use my experience with the Thurston County VAAC to reach out to communities to find out what would help increase access to information, registration and voting for their members.  I would like to build on the successes we have had in Thurston, like providing our voters’ pamphlet in multiple formats like American Sign Language (ASL), plain text, and closed captioning. 

Background:  Improvements in Accessible Voting

Some voters with disabilities cannot read a printed ballot, or are unable to independently mark a ballot with a pen or pencil. With the advent of “accessible voting units” (AVUs) and other advanced technology, many people with disabilities no longer need to rely on someone to read or mark their ballot, and can vote privately and independently for the first time.  The federal Help America Vote Act requires each polling place in the United States to have at least one of these AVUs available for use. Because Washington is a vote-by-mail state, most counties have just one polling place. This means that in our state voters who want to use an AVU cannot do so at a nearby polling place, but instead must travel to the county seat where the AVU is located.  As a result, very few of the voters who could benefit from AVUs in Washington actually use them. 

Question Three:  What would you do to make it easier for voters who cannot read or mark a printed ballot to vote privately and independently?

Kathleen Drew's response:  As a former State Senator and policy advisor to the Governor, I have worked on election reforms, wrote the state ethics laws and  streamlined the government to meet the needs of businesses and citizens. I know how to get things done like making sure there is a statewide primary voters’ pamphlet that is printed and delivered to all voters in the state – and this should include a Braille version for our visually impaired voters.

Kim Wyman's response:  After making the outreach to the various communities, I would work to expand ideas we have had success with, like the AutoMark Road Show, where we take the AVU machines out to voting centers and community groups to connect voters to the technology available to them.  We have found it takes introducing the devices a couple of times before some people will feel comfortable using them. Outreach events and hands on training help people engage and we have seen a large increase in our AVU usage as a result.  I would like to see this expanded at the state level. 

Question Four:  Would you support accessible electronic ballot delivery systems, telephone voting or other systems?

Kathleen Drew's response:  I would absolutely support accessible electronic ballot delivery systems and other uses of technology to include more people in the voting process.

Kim Wyman's response:  Yes, and again, the success will come from engaging communities and having the ideas for solutions come from the voters who will use the technology. That was the single best lesson we had from our VAAC – the users know what they need and give us the best solutions. 

Question Five:  Would you ensure that the current system for military and overseas voters is accessible?

Kathleen Drew's response
:  In the office of Governor Gregoire, I worked with both Democrats and Republicans in a bipartisan fashion to streamline the state’s procurement process and worked to help make it easier for overseas military to cast their votes.  As the daughter of  a veteran, the issue of accessibility to our military and overseas voters is very important to me.
Kim Wyman's response:  Absolutely.

Background:  Captioning TVW and Video Voters Guide

The Legislature allocates money to the Office of the Secretary of State to pass on to TVW (Washington State's Public Affairs Television Network) to help pay for the cost of televising Legislative hearings and other events of interest to the public. The TVW videocasts are not accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, because the video is not captioned. In addition, TVW works with the Secretary of State to develop a “Video Voters Guide”, which is also available on its website and cablecasts. The Video Voters Guide is also not captioned.
Questions Six, Seven and Eight:  Will you request funding for TVW to pay for captioning all of its cablecasts? Will you ensure that captioning is provided for the Video Voters Guide? What steps will you take to ensure all future video voter guides are accessible to people with disabilities, including people who are Deaf or hard of hearing?
Kathleen Drew's response:  I will use the full weight of my office to advocate for funding for TVW cablecasts and will work to ensure captioning for the Video Voters Guide.  It  is imperative that we engage all eligible voters in the voting process. This has been a major theme of  my campaign and it stretches from voters with disabilities to minority and student voters. You ensure that all video voter guides are accessible to people with disabilities by making it a priority and directing your staff to do so as well If  you make it a permanent part of the elections process, then everyone can expect it for generations to come.
Kim Wyman's response:  Yes, I will.  The Thurston VAAC came up with the ASL translation and captioning because of recommendations from our member who represented the deaf and hard of hearing community.  He explained the need for an ASL translator who was deaf to do the signing, because the translation would be better understood by the deaf community.  I will use my experience in Thurston to seek and secure funding for captioning and translation funding for the video voters’ guide and other cable casts, because it is important.  Our success in Thurston should be expanded and securing the funding from the state or other sources like grants will come when the office works with the interested communities.  I look forward to taking our model and working on these issues at the state level.

Background:  Accessibility of Websites

Congress allocated funds to the states through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and the current Secretary of State has continued to use some of this money to improve the accessibility of Washington elections for voters with disabilities. Most of the funds have been spent and Congress isn’t expected to make additional allocations. The current Secretary of State is using some of the remaining funds to upgrade election websites, and has committed to work on making websites more accessible to voters who are Blind or have developmental or learning disabilities.
Question Nine: Will you commit to using the resources and funds necessary to improve the accessibility of the websites of counties and the Office of the Secretary of State, and to ensure that these websites are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal laws?
Kathleen Drew's response:  Absolutely.
Kim Wyman's response:  Yes I will. 
Question Ten:  How will you involve voters with disabilities with expertise in website access in this process?
Kathleen Drew's response:  Like I stated above, my plan is to bring people together from the disabilities community to discuss how best we can engage in all areas of the Secretary of State’s office, including the website.  I  am very aware of the benefits of  a fully engaging and accessible online presence and I intend to continue to work to improve the website when I am Secretary of State.  In  my view, the website should never be “finished” but  an ongoing work in progress that is constantly changing and improving.
Kim Wyman's response:  Go to the organizations in our state that can connect the office with those experts to improve access.  Some of the solutions are simple, like providing the information in a text format for all website content.  The more complex solutions will come from input provided by representatives in various communities who have already solved these barriers.  The Secretary of State can be a national leader and develop a national model in this area and I look forward to working with people in our state to make this a reality.