Accessible voting bill passes legislature

3/8/2006
News
Phil Jordan

Governor Gregoire Expected to Sign Landmark Legislation

A bill that will set the standard for making voting accessible for all citizens has passed the Legislature. House Bill 2479 was passed unanimously by both houses and has been delivered to the Governor for her signature. Governor Gregoire is expected to sign the bill in late March of this year.

Accessible Voting

The bill addresses many barriers faced by voters with disabilities. Most noticeably, it extends the time when voters may go to the polls and use an accessible voting machine. These machines will be available in all counties beginning twenty days prior to Election Day. This will give voters who have difficulty scheduling transportation to the polling site a three week window of opportunity to arrange a ride.

The bill became necessary when many counties decided to conduct their elections primarily by mail. While this is a convenient and accessible voting method for many voters, it creates barriers for others. Those who are unable to fill out the mail-in ballots must travel to a polling site and use an accessible machine to cast their private ballot. This is important even in counties that do not go to vote-by-mail systems. Because of new federal laws, all counties are limiting the number of polling sites available. Because there are so few polling places in most counties, individuals who want to use accessible machines often have difficulty getting to the polling site.

The accessible voting machines will allow many voters with disabilities to cast a ballot without assistance. The right to cast a ballot privately is a fundamental right of American citizens. However, many people who are blind or have other disabilities have routinely been unable to exercise this right. Beginning this fall, all counties are required to have at least one accessible machine available for voting.

The machines are designed to allow blind, visually impaired, or voters who cannot read the ability to listen to the ballot over headphones, and make their choices by pushing the appropriate button. The machines can also allow independent voting by people who do not have the dexterity or motor skills to fill out an absentee ballot. For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, the machines have a display screen.

Advisory Committees

The bill has another feature that will be very important for people with disabilities. It requires counties to establish advisory committees that will help overcome barriers to accessible voting. These advisory committees must include people with diverse disabilities so that each county will be able to make plans to solve the problems faced by people with disabilities in that particular county.

Many organizations within the disability community are gearing up to find people with disabilities who want to participate in these advisory councils. If you are interested in working with your county election officials to make voting more accessible, you should do one of the following things:

Call, write or e-mail David Lord or Phil Jordan at
Washington Protection & Advocacy System
315 – 5th Avenue South, Suite 850
Seattle, WA 98104

(800) 562-2702 voice or 1 (800) 905-0209 tty

Call, write or e-mail your local county auditor. You can find the contact information for your auditor in your phone book or on the internet.

Want to know more? For information about the bill, click on this link:
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2479