by Dan Burke
From the Editor: Dan Burke served as the president of the NFB of Montana for nine years and on the NFB board of directors for five years. Currently he is the public relations specialist at the Colorado Center for the Blind and teaches a college prep class there for students headed for higher education. Dan describes how despite electronic voting machines being physically available for Colorado voters, their actual functionality for blind voters was less than we have the right to expect. Here is what he says:
I wore a sticker on Election Day that said "I Voted," but it should have said "I Voted Twice!" I know a handful of other blind Coloradans who also voted two, sometimes three times.
Maybe a sticker saying, "I voted—again and again ..."?
This isn't about voter fraud. This is about the failure of equal access to our right to vote privately and independently. This is about blind voters standing firm in the face of this failure.
You see, our first times through the ballot were not recorded. The problem, and the reason we all voted again, was that the electronic voting system deployed across Colorado that the law requires to ensure our right to vote privately and independently failed us. Once, twice, and in at least one case three times it failed individual blind voters in Arapahoe County. And it happened in at least four different polling locations. One blind voter tried two times, and the system crashed each time. Finally, frustrated and worn out, he made the unhappy choice to revert to the dark age of voting for the blind—he told a poll judge what his votes were and trusted that they would be recorded accurately.
Those days should be behind us. As of 2006, all polling places were required by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to have electronic voting machines. That was in response to dimpled, pregnant, and hanging chads in Florida 2000. But the law also required that those machines—or at least some of them in every polling place—would be accessible to voters with disabilities, including blind voters. We in the National Federation of the Blind made sure that last was true, that a blind person could vote privately and independently with nonvisual access. That is the America we envisioned. And it's almost come true.
Frustratingly, it's only almost. It's only sometimes.
For years Colorado left the choice of accessible voting systems up to each county. In 2015 it decided to pick one vendor and have all the counties use that same system. That's how we got the present Dominion voting system. The trouble with the selection process was that blind people weren't at the table. We didn't even get a call until the field testing of the four finalists. On a day or two's notice, the NFB of Colorado was asked to send testers to three of the four locations testing individual systems. Another blind person had been found to test the system tested in Denver County. As it happens, that was the machine that was chosen. But blind people were just an afterthought. Not actually at the table, we were tossed table scraps. And then Colorado's Secretary of State made an eight-year agreement with Dominion.
Some counties just rolled out their Dominion systems this election, but Arapahoe deployed it in 2016. So far, I only know of Arapahoe County problems in 2018, which seems counter-intuitive. But the fact is that Julie and I voted in the primary in June without incident. The Wednesday before election day we went to a nearby polling place, and the judges couldn't get the system to the first contest, even with two phone calls to the elections help desk. We left after forty-five minutes without voting. Monday, the day before election day, we went to another polling place. We sat side-by-side at different machines. Julie's machine worked fine. Mine crashed after I completed all forty-five contests. By crashed I mean it reset itself. The poll supervisor was like an ER doctor trying to resuscitate an accident victim--valiant, but no hope. In Colorado our ballots are not recorded electronically. There is nothing to count until the ballot has printed, and you can drop it in the slot. For me, and all of my friends who voted more than once, the system crashed before we ever got to the point of printing the ballot. They too had to vote again. And maybe again.
In the twelve years since HAVA put accessible voting machines into polling places, I think I have experienced problems in voting as many as half the times I've been to the polls. And I go to the polls for every election. So this means the past five years since I moved to Colorado, and the preceding seven years in Missoula County, Montana. This just isn't good enough, and I hope by now you, dear reader, have the feeling that I'm mad as hell.
It only took a few swipes through my Facebook feed on election day to see that things are much the same with blind voters across the country. Many experienced flawless access, voting privately and independently. Many others experienced barriers. Nationwide, it seems, the promise of private, independent access for the blind is not yet fully realized.
I know we can work with our county clerk and recorder to figure out where the problems are and take steps to fix things that are within the county's control. But this is a statewide system, so we also need to contact Secretary-elect Jena Griswold. Dominion, the company who has our Colorado contract for six more years needs to step up. We want and deserve a system that does more than go "clunk" half the time. And one of the ways to ensure that is to have blind people testing and evaluating the system and modifications long before they hit our polling places.
We need to fix this, because we're not going away. All of us blind Colorado voters whose franchise was jacked around this week kept coming back, kept voting until it counted. That's because we count, and we will be counted. And I'll be damned if I report my vote to someone else to mark down ever again.