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Advocates: New York’s Voter Access Effort Falls Short

November 25, 2008

New York, NY — Advocates for people with disabilities say, despite investing $60 million for new ballot marking devices to comply with the Help America Vote Act, New York's plan to provide equal access to voters with disabilities failed. Many of the voters never got to use the machines on election day, according to advocates who blame poor training that discouraged disabled voters across the state.

Rima McCoy, voting rights coordinator for the Center for Independence of the Disabled(CIDNY), says the state purchased new ballot marking devices for each poll site to assist voters with visual and other disabilities. But, she says, New York failed to give poll workers ample training. The new devices, which cost as much as $14,000 dollars each, ended up off limits to many voters, according to McCoy.

"This was a concern across the board, advocates saw this happening all over the state on November 4th, where poll workers were so uncomfortable with the machines that they were discouraging people from using them."

New York does not allow early voting, but the city council today will consider measures that McCoy says would help people with disabilities who need more time to cast their ballot.

"Early voting would be beneficial to voters with disabilities; and we want to make sure that it is done in a way that takes into account the needs of voters with disabilities."

The state board of elections says some counties did not get the full shipment of new ballot marking devices until August, so there was little time for training. Plans to correct the problem are already being designed, including online training for poll workers.

A CIDNY survey of 64 poll sites in New York City found 83 percent had barriers, which impeded access to people with disabilities. For example, some poll places used cement blocks to hold doors open, creating a tripping hazard. McCoy says problems like these can be fixed for less than $100.

Michael Clifford/Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY