The National Federation of the Blind
of Connecticut
Reflections After the Vote
By Chris Kuell

This past election was one that I'll never forget. Not because the democrats regained control of the legislative branch of the federal government, but for the first time in the history of our country, voting was made accessible for the fifty-four million Americans (three-hundred thousand people in Connecticut) who live with disabilities. Theoretically.

All of the 769 polling precincts in Connecticut were equipped with the IVS Vote by Phone system. I had to request it at my polling place, but a poll worker brought me over, set things up and I experienced the thrill of voting by myself. Everything worked flawlessly. Unfortunately, things didn't go so smoothly for all disabled voters. I've spoken with twenty blind people, here is a summary of what I've heard:

1. The option to use the IVS Vote-by-Phone system was not mentioned to anyone I spoke with. Each voter had to request it, and poll worker responses ran the gambit from, "Right over here," to "We don't have that." If a person didn't ask, they had to vote with assistance from a friend or poll worker.

2. Everyone I spoke to who requested the IVS system was discouraged from using it, being told that it would take fifteen or twenty minutes. I timed myself, and it took me nine minutes to vote and get the printout. My wife went faster using eyes and a lever machine, but I was happy to take a few extra minutes.

3. I heard a variety of complaints, the most common being that poll workers didn't know the access code, and it took ten or more minutes to find someone who did. Three people ended up getting help after someone from city hall was called and came to the polling place to enter the code. Five people reported the IVS system was wired incorrectly. Two of these cases were fixed and the person eventually voted using the system. Others didn't wait and voted with assistance.

4. Everyone who was able to vote on the IVS system found it logical and easy to use.

I chatted with the poll worker before placing my printout in the envelope, and learned that the poll workers had been trained in groups, and that they just observed a trainer setting up the system and using it-they never actually touched anything or went through it themselves. When the computer spoke to my poll worker, she was as surprised as me to hear the voice, since she had never done it before.

Less than five-hundred people used the IVS system in Connecticut on November 7th. On the one hand, I find this very discouraging. I can already hear the critics shouting about wasting money on a handful of people, or berating the complexity of the technology. But, we must remember that a lot of disabled people vote by absentee ballot, for the simple reason that it's easy, and they don't have to worry about getting to the polling place on Election Day. Similarly, many people don't mind voting with assistance, and/or didn't know about the new IVS system.

I suggest for future elections, better, hands-on training should be given to poll workers. Many poll workers are retirees, and may need extra time to better understand and familiarize themselves with new procedures.

Additionally, the Secretary of State should make a thirty-second public service announcement in the month before next years elections so the disabled public knows what to expect, and knows to ask for accessible voting. Further effort should be put into getting the word out through disability groups, non-profit organizations that work with disabled people, and state agencies serving the disabled.

The organized blind have fought for years to gain the right to vote privately and independently. In 2002, the Federal Help America Vote Act was passed, mandating accessible voting by 2006. Any time a new product is introduced, problems arise, and the intelligent manufacturer fixes them and learns to do it better the next time. I hope that now the bugs have been uncovered, next year's elections will be a lot smoother, for every voter.

Chris Kuell
12 Pleasant Street
Danbury, CT 06810
203-730-8884
ckuell@mindspring.com

 

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Updated March 20, 2007