Saturday, April 24, 2004

Time for Action - Friday, April 23, 2004 3:28 PM NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND FILES COMPLAINT

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I truly understand your dedication to secure elections. And I appreciate your work to make our elections safe. Your points are right on task, except in the area of citizens with disabilities.

We are being asked to write letters to the editor and one of the complaints is because citizens who are blind filed a lawsuit in order to get a vote this election. Obviously we are very hurt that there seems to be an organizing effort against potential voters with disabilities. I have not done a very good job expressing our point of view, so I will attempt now.

When you write your letters and make your calls I ask you to keep in perspective about citizens with disabilities and why citizens who are blind filed the lawsuit.

According to the American Association of People with Disabilitites we believe that there are 900,000 citizens with disabilities in Ohio that could not vote in the 2000 election because the election was not accessible to them in one fashion or another.

Let us first start with who are the citizens with disabilities who have been denied their vote.

A disability can be a sensory impairment such as blindness, low vision, or other visual impairment, deafness, or being hard-of-hearing. It can be a mental impairment such as chronic mental illness, or one of the developmental disabilities of mental retardation, autism, epilepsy/seizure disorder and cerebral palsy. An increasingly frequent type of neurological impairment is traumatic brain injury (formerly called head injury), most often caused by accidents. It most often is a combination of.

Another category involves physical disabilities, which include a tremendous range and variety of conditions. The term physical disabilities covers spinal cord injuries, spina bifida and other congenital malformations. It also includes amputations, arthritis, muscular dystrophy and additional musculoskeletal conditions. Many physical disabilities can take the form of mobility impairment, a highly visible type of disability. An estimated 10% of people with mobility impairments use wheelchairs, and others use walkers, canes, braces or crutches.

Among the less visible disability types are learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and chronic illness. A chronic illness can persist for months or even years, and its severity may require persons to be hospitalized during periodic flare ups. Among the various types of chronic illnesses are diabetes, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, disorders of the kidneys, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, asthma, lupis, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiac conditions, osteoporosis, chronic back pain, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Consistently being medically fragile also falls into this category.

Some of us are born with our disability, some acquire them later, some get injured at work, in recreational accidents, we have acquired diseases and conditions, have been victims of violence (domestic or community), are coming back from war, injured in car accidents and are those of us who have been healthy until we age. 2000 Census showed Ohio having 19% of our population of people with disabilities. In 2020 20% of our population will be 65 years and older with 50% of them those physically needing accessible accommodations. 95% of us will have atleast one disability before we die.
People with disabilities are family members, our friends and coworkers.
They are you and me in the future.

Let us go to the law.

Ohio Revised Code § 3501.29. Polling places

(B) The board shall assure that polling places are free of barriers that would impede ingress and egress of handicapped persons, that the entrances of polling places are level or are provided with a nonskid ramp of not over eight per cent gradient, and that doors are a minimum of thirty-two inches wide. Each county shall comply with these requirements according to the following timetable
(1) At least fifty per cent of the polling places in each county shall be in compliance by November 1, 1980;
(2) At least seventy-five per cent of the polling places in each county shall be in compliance by November 1, 1981;
(3) All polling places in each county shall be in compliance by November 1, 1982, except those that are specifically exempted by the secretary of state upon certification by a board of elections that a good faith, but unsuccessful, effort has been made to modify, or change the location of, such polling places

§ 3505.24. Assistance provided to elector with disability or illiterate elector Any elector who declares to the presiding judge of elections that the elector is unable to mark the elector's ballot by reason of blindness, disability, or illiteracy may b(e) accompanied in the voting booth and aided by any person of the elector's choice, other than the elector's employer, an agent of the elector's employer, or an officer or agent of the elector's union, if any. The elector also may request and receive assistance in the marking of the elector's ballot from two election officials of different political parties. Any person providing assistance in the marking of an elector's ballot under this section shall thereafter provide no information in regard to the marking of that ballot.

The federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 generally requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. This law also requires states to make available registration and voting aids for disabled and elderly voters, including information by telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs).

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the "Motor Voter Act," makes it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. One of the basic purposes of the Act is to increase the historically low registration rates of minorities and persons with disabilities that have resulted from discrimination. The Motor Voter Act requires all offices of State-funded programs that are primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities to provide all program applicants with voter registration forms, to assist them in completing the forms, and to transmit completed forms to the appropriate State official.

All the way from the law itself, including the process of and registration, is not in Braille, the vote itself is not in Braille. Other countries have multiple ways that they have made the vote accessible for citizens with disabilities, decades ago, without electronic voting machines.
In Ohio wheelchairs cannot get in polling sites that the Secretary has chosen because they are in historic churches, private residences and in public buildings that intentionally did not update their buildings as is required by law.

The Secretary is also afraid to move sites for economic reasons because people and organizations receive income from having their sites as poll sites and the removal of this income will be difficult to fight against.

Though Ohio laws says that citizens with disabilities "may b(e) accompanied in the voting booth and aided by any person of the elector's choice" more than half of Ohio's poll sites choose to have a member from each party, a second way to deny the voter his/her right.

People with disabilities are asked, still, two decades later, to use absentee ballot. Just last week the Secretary of State was overseeing the counting of absentee ballots that had been put in a box, taped up in a back room and not counted in Lucas County. Absentee ballots are not counted in Ohio because the process for counting absentee ballots, and how they are required to show up in the tallies, has not been standardized statewide for
88 counties.

State Agencies do not follow the Motor Voter Act to register citizens with disabilities to vote.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, for that matter, told me he had no motivation to make the vote accessible, prior to HAVA, has no plan for accessibility in the State HAVA Plan and has budgeted no money for any accessibility in his administrative budget or HAVA budget except in the
electronic machines. County Boards of Elections have been telling me that
they have been waiting for guidance from the Secretary on accessiblity for their county elections. The Secretary does not want citizens with disabilities to vote because he is afraid that under the treatment they have received from him that he will not be the recipient of that vote.

Every level of the current government, Governor Taft and the Legislature know of the problems in the lack of access to citizens with disabilities, because those citizens have told them. We all stood together in front of the Joint Committee on Ballot Security, in front of you, and told them.

Within the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Ballot Security, there was a recommendation to allow the Secretary of State to draw funds to lease electronic machines in the 29 (now 31) counties that had plans to release their machines in November, if he chooses. The Controlling Board did not see a proposal from the Secretary of State to release that money because the Secretary has no intention of. We have been told by the Secretary of State's office that there will be no accessibility changes for this election. So if the citizens who are blind do not sue, how will they get a vote?

Maybe a little perspective is needed. An equivalent comparison for you would be if the state put the entire election law into a foreign language, hid the law books from you, hid the sites of the election in buildings that only special people were given the key to. That is the current status of the voting for citizens with disabilities in Ohio.

If the Secretary of State denied you your vote how long would it take you to file a lawsuit? Why do you argue against the rights of citizens with disabilities to get theirs? Do not blame the citizens who are blind. Blame the Secretary of State and for not making the vote accessible to citizens with disabilities.

The problem of voting in Ohio is not just electronic voting and auditable paper trails.

The problem of voting in Ohio is that the entire system needs overhauling for the benefit of all of Ohio's citizens and no oversight has been given over the Secretary of State. No matter how many laws you put before an Secretary of State on paper trail, if he is not forced to fulfill them, what good is the law. No matter how many opportunities you give the Secretary to draw funds, if he does not write the proposal to do so, there will be no funds drawn down to purchase machines.

To make the vote accessible this November would require several things.
Each County Election Director needs to take an expert with them to analyze each of the poll sites. This would take one week. Then an analysis of sites to move poll sites to, another week. For this election only, each
County could lease machines or buy only one machine for each poll site. If
smart, they could purchase a variety of machines to act as a test on what they would like to purchase in the future. Implement the check list that the US Department of Justice released to make each poll site accessible.
All election materials could be converted to Braille easily by contacting their local organization for the blind. And each County could educate the public through an outreach. If they wanted. But they don't. Why is that?

Another example of how this November could include people with disabilities, be for the legislature to pick up their oversight of the Secretary of State
and force his hand to fully enforce the election law. Why aren't they
doing that?

In this tight election year, how important are 900,000 votes in Ohio? Why haven't you stood up to the Secretary of State and told him to make the vote accessible? Why has no one championed this misjustice? Why aren't you championing this injustice?

Shame on anyone and everyone who knows anything about this and does not act to help citizens get a vote this election. I did not say this before but I want to make sure you know this now. To take part in rhetoric against citizens with disabilities because they want to enforce their right to vote is discriminatory and the core of denying citizens due process under law.

Do not blame citizens who are blind for standing up for their rights. They are protecting your right to vote in the future.

Belinda Spinosi
Advocate for People with Disabilities
Reynoldsburg Ohio