‘Lever machines’ infringe on rights of disabled voters

After 35 years of having another person in the voting booth with me, I again experienced the thrill of voting independently and privately because of the automatic marking voting machines instituted in recent years. However, due to the lesser importance placed upon school board budget votes, I am once again thrown into darkness, depending on strangers to make my vote count.

Recent attempts made by the State Legislature to expand and continue the use of “lever machines” in voting disregard my desire, as a person who lost his vision while serving in the U.S. Army, and thousands of other visually impaired veterans, not to mention tens of thousands of seniors and non-veterans with sight loss.

While these machines have long been considered a “voting tradition” in New York, they are inaccessible to people with visual, physical and cognitive disabilities, who must request help from poll workers, violating the privacy of their ballot.

The Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 to address these concerns by replacing those machines with ones that can provide the opportunity to electronically read and mark a ballot. The use of “lever machines” was supposed to end in 2014.

However, legislation passed by the State Senate not only extends the use of these machines indefinitely, but in effect will deny persons with disabilities the right to vote independently in local elections and school budgets.

Voting is a critical right. We should be using the same system for all elections, accessible to every citizen. While the Assembly has sponsored a bill in compromise that would require accessible polling to be available, it still sends the message that my right to vote is secondary to the cost of printing ballots.

Douglas J. Usiak

Executive Director, Western

New York Independent Living