Journal News submission March 2, 2011
In October 2006, I testified before the Westchester County Board of Legislators to oppose their resolution to maintain lever voting machines at all polling places throughout the county. That night, a large contingent from the disability community also came forward to protest the County Board’s assertion that the “lever machines have proved reliable, user-friendly and cost-effective.” We argued that the lever machines have not proved user-friendly to voters with varying types of visual, mobility and cognitive disabilities. We told them that voters with visual disabilities are not able to read the ballot, voters with limited mobility capacity are not able to reach and/or operate the levers, and voters with certain cognitive limitations are not able to visually focus on the current ballot style associated with the lever machines. Assembly member Tom Abinanti, who was a county legislator at that time, apparently wasn’t listening that night.
Mr. Abinanti, along with several of his Westchester colleagues in the Assembly, cosponsored a new state bill, A.3093/S.3216, that will allow villages, special districts, improvement dis tricts and library districts to use inaccessible lever machines or hand-counted paper ballots at their option during elections. The “Fiscal Implications”of Bill A.3093/S.3216 states that villages “will receive significant savings if the Bill is enacted,” relieving them of the “high cost associated with the use of the new scanning machines.”
It is disappointing that our elected officials continue to put a price tag on the hard won right of persons with disabilities to a private and independent vote. In 2009, Mr. Abinanti, along with fellow County Board members petitioned Governor Patterson i n an attempt to maintain the lever machines within polling sites despite the implementation of accessible voting systems (optical scan machines) throughout the state under the federal 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). [Section 301(a)(3)(A) of HAVA requires that voting systems “be accessible for individuals with disabilities . . . in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.”] “Replacing the lever voting machines is very costly,” stated Mr. Abinanti in support of the 2009 petition.
Assembly and Senate legislators shamefully and swiftly passed Bill A.3093/S.3216 last month without public notice or the opportunity to comment. It is regrettable that Governor Cuomo has now signed this legislation into law, which becomes effective immediately, disenfranchising voters with disabilities and jeopardizing the standardization within the electoral process as mandated under HAVA. The New York State Conference of Mayors issued a statement thanking the Governor for recognizing “that these changes make sense for village voters as well as village taxpayers.”
Unfortunately, these changes do not make sense for New York voters with disabilities, who are also tax payers and who also vote in their village elections. The overwhelming endorsement and passage of this bill sends a clear message: If you are a person with a disability in New York State, your vote doesn’t count.
Director, Systems Advocacy
Westchester Independent Living Center
White Plains, NY 10601