NYC Board of Elections Removes “Hidden Barriers” to Voting

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In compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the New York City Board of Elections will implement new equipment to assist voters with disabilities.
Avante Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), featuring a variety of adaptive technologies, will be available to voters during this year’s September 12th Primary and November 7 General Elections. Ballot Marking Devices assists the voter to mark a ballot but does not count votes.
The Board of Elections has set up Super Polling Sites in all five boroughs. These Super Polling Sites, located in each Board of Elections borough office, will house 4 to 5 machines. The Brooklyn Super Polling Site location is 345 Adams Street, 4th floor, Training Room, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
According to John Ravitz, BOE Executive Director, there is no definition for disability; any voter can use these machines during the primary and general elections. No one will be questioned as to the nature of their disability. Avante Ballot Marking Devices, however, will only be used this year.
The Board of Elections has no idea how many voters will elect to use this equipment at each Super Polling Site-there may be 5 or 500. The BOE does guarantee that anybody on line will vote. Since the time necessary to cast a ballot may be 3 – 45 minutes, depending upon the number of candidates in a particular CD/ AD, and other factors, it is suggested voters go to the Super Polling Site early.
Ballot Marking Devices assist voters by offering an interface choice of viewing or audio (for those with visual disabilities). Assistive technologies include: Touch Screen (for making selections), Headphones, Rocker Paddles (for those with dexterity disabilities, Sip-and-Puff (also for those with dexterity disabilities), and Display Personalization (for contrast, color and font size). In addition, a Touch-Screen Keyboard in available for write-ins.
BMDs can assist voters to overcome ‘hidden barriers’ to voting. Some potential voters may avoid voting due to an aversion to, or dislike of reading. Voters with diagnosed or undiagnosedlLearning disabilities (such as dyslexia) can now vote on BMDs with confidence by using the audio interface. Other potential voters who may be functionally illiterate (due to an inadequate educational experience or other reasons) can also take advantage of BMDs.
Curious about the new voting process using Ballot Marking Devices? During the week of August 20, the NYC BOE held demonstrations in all five boroughs, collaborating with CIDNY (Centers for Independence of the Disabled, NY) and Independent Living Centers. There will be no other public demonstrations of BMDs prior to the Sept. 12th Primary due to time constraints. The NYC BOE is set to send out a $1.2 million mailer to all voters in NYC, informing them of the availability of BMDs. If you miss both outreach efforts, there will be specially trained staff at each Super Polling Site to assist you. (See Side Bar for a detailed walk-through of the process.)
Commenting on this new initiative, Steven Richman, General Counsel for the Board of Elections, said BMDs will allow voters with disabilities to vote with   secrecy and independence.
This will not be the BOE’s last foray with new voting technology. In October, Board of Election Commissioners will meet to evaluate demonstrations of a variety of electronic voting machines, choosing one to be implemented citywide by the fall of 2007.
Yes, New Yorkers, next year, we all will cast our ballots on electronic voting machines, which are not the same as Ballot marking devices. Voting machines assist the voter to make a selection and count votes. If the New York City Board of Elections is as thoughtful regarding selection of electronic voting machines/vendors as it has been in selecting adaptive voting equipment, New York can lead the nation in implementing voting machine technology. We have the perfect opportunity to avoid the debacles that occurred in California, Ohio, and most recently, Georgia.
General Counsel Richman assures us that the ’07 voting machines will include an auditable paper trail, mandated by state law.
We will be watching.

The Voter Experience
Any NYC Voter can use a BMD to Vote.
*Voter goes to Super Polling Site in the Borough of Registered Residence.
*Voter goes to AVID Sign-in Table, gives Voter’s name and address to Poll Worker.
*Poll Worker Checks Voter-Eligibility to vote in this Election
-Is Voter Registered?
-Is Voter in the Right Borough? A Voter can use a BMD only in their borough of registered residence.
-Affidavit Ballot? If a Voter is not listed as registered, Voter will be given an Affidavit Ballot, later used to verify Voter. No one will be turned away if they claim to be in the system and they are not.
*A Voter Profile is printed. Voter signs Voter Profile. The Voter Profile is placed into a Poll List Book, which will be checked later to assure Voter did not vote at regular polling site.
*Voter is given a Voter Card and a blue envelop on which Voter writes ED/AD, name, address, etc.
*Voter takes envelope and Voter Card to Smart Card Table.
*Poll Worker Creates Voter Smart Card.
*Voter goes to Ballot Marking Machine.
*Poll Worker places Smart Card into BMD, Initiates BMD for Voter (Once used, Smart Card is deactivated).
*Poll Worker Verifies ED/AD.
*If ED/AD is correct, Poll Worker will assist Voter to set up interface choices:
a) Visual Display or Audio Ballot
b) How Voter wants to cast ballot: Touch Screen, Keyboard, Sip-and-Puff Device or Rocker Paddles
c) Language Choices -English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean
d) Display Personalization- Contrast, color and font
*Poll Worker leaves Voter in privacy to vote. (Poll Workers are available if Voter requests assistance.)
*Voter Marks Ballot.
*Voter Verifies Ballot.
*Voter Casts Ballot.
*BMD prints out Ballot.
*Voter places Printed Ballot into Blue Envelope, places it into Ballot Box.
*Voter Exits.