NYTimes.com Article: The Disability Lobby and Voting

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Date: Fri Jun 11 2004 - 11:30:07 CDT

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Today's New York Times editorial.


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The Disability Lobby and Voting

June 11, 2004


Two obvious requirements for a fair election are that
voters should have complete confidence about their ballots'
being counted accurately and that everyone, including the
disabled, should have access to the polls. It is hard to
imagine advocates for those two goals fighting, but lately
that seems to be what's happening.

The issue is whether electronic voting machines should
provide a "paper trail" - receipts that could be checked by
voters and used in recounts. There has been a rising demand
around the country for this critical safeguard, but the
move to provide paper trails is being fought by a handful
of influential advocates for the disabled, who complain
that requiring verifiable paper records will slow the
adoption of accessible electronic voting machines.

The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, has
been championing controversial voting machines that do not
provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the
machines' accessibility, but also to their security and
accuracy - neither of which is within the federation's
areas of expertise. What's even more troubling is that the
group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training
institute from Diebold, the machines' manufacturer, which
put the testimonial on its Web site. The federation stands
by its "complete confidence" in Diebold even though several
recent studies have raised serious doubts about the
company, and California has banned more than 14,000 Diebold
machines from being used this November because of doubts
about their reliability.

Disability-rights groups have had an outsized influence on
the debate despite their general lack of background on
security issues. The League of Women Voters has been a
leading opponent of voter-verifiable paper trails, in part
because it has accepted the disability groups' arguments.

Last year, the American Association of People With
Disabilities gave its Justice for All award to Senator
Christopher Dodd, an author of the Help America Vote Act, a
post-2000 election reform law. Mr. Dodd, who has actively
opposed paper trails, then appointed Jim Dickson, an
association official, to the Board of Advisors of the
Election Assistance Commission, where he will be in a good
position to oppose paper trails at the federal level. In
California, a group of disabled voters recently sued to
undo the secretary of state's order decertifying the
electronic voting machines that his office had found to be

Some supporters of voter-verifiable paper trails question
whether disability-rights groups have gotten too close to
voting machine manufacturers. Besides the donation by
Diebold to the National Federation of the Blind, there have
been other gifts. According to Mr. Dickson, the American
Association of People with Disabilities has received
$26,000 from voting machine companies this year.

The real issue, though, is that disability-rights groups
have been clouding the voting machine debate by suggesting
that the nation must choose between accessible voting and
verifiable voting.

It is well within the realm of technology to produce
machines that meet both needs. Meanwhile, it would be a
grave mistake for election officials to rush to spend
millions of dollars on paperless electronic voting machines
that may quickly become obsolete.

Disabled people have historically faced great obstacles at
the polls, and disability-rights groups are right to work
zealously for accessible voting. But they should not
overlook the fact that the disabled, like all Americans,
also have an interest in ensuring that their elections are
not stolen.



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Received on Wed Jun 30 23:17:12 2004

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