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State rolls back voting rights for disabled

Written by Lisa Tarricone Mar 14, 2011

In October 2006, I testified before the Westchester County Board of Legis lators to oppose its resolution to maintain lever voting machines at all polling places throughout the county. That night, a large contingent from the disability com munity also came forward to protest the county board's assertion that the lever machin es had proved reliable, user-friendly and cost-effective. We argued that the leve r machines have not proved user-friendly to voters with varying types of visual, mobility a nd cognitive disabilities. We told the board that voters with visual disabilities a re not able to read the ballots, voters with limited mobility capacity are not able to reach an d-or operate the levers, and voters with certain cognitive limitations are not able to visually focus on the ballot style associated with the lever machines.

Apparently, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, who was a county legislator at th e time, wasn't listening that night. Mr. Abinanti, along with several of his Westch ester colleagues in the Assembly, co-sponsored a bill, recently signed by Go v. (Andrew) Cuomo, (that allows) villages, special districts, improvement districts and l ibrary districts to use inaccessible lever machines or hand-counted paper ball ots at their op tion during the upcoming elections. The "Fiscal Implications" section of Bill A. 3093/S.3216 states that villages "will receive significant savings if the Bil l is enacted," re lieving them of the "high cost associated with the use of the new scanning machi nes."

It is disappointing that our elected officials continue to put a pric e tag on the hard- won right of persons with disabilities to a private and independent vote. In 2009, Westchester County legislators petitioned then-Gov. David Paterson to mai ntain the lever machines within polling sites despite the implementation of accessi ble voting systems (optical scan machines) throughout the state to comply with the fede ral 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAV A 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 independe nce) as for other voters."

"Replacing the lever voting machines is very costly," stated then-county L egislator 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 regre ttable that Gov. Cuomo signed this legislation that will allow most of the Westche ster villages holding elections Tuesday to use inaccessible lever machines.

The New York State Conference of Mayors issued a statement thanking the g overnor for recognizing "that these changes make sense for village voters as well a s village taxpayers." Unfortunately, these changes do not make sense for New York voter s with disabilities, who are also taxpayers and who also vote in their village el ections. Bill A.3093/S.3216 should not be extended past its sunset date of Decembe r 2012, and villages should begin now to make plans to provide accessibl e elections in the future.

LoHud.com New York's Lower Hudson Valley

Lisa Tarricone
Director, Systems Advocacy
Westchester Independent Living Center
White Plains, NY 10601
914.523.8922 (mobile)
914.682.3926 (office)

Westchester Independent Living Center, Inc.
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