More Election Stories: Double Trouble
November 12, 2008
I received this Election Day story from Suzanne Erb. I finally met Suzanne at last year's Take Back America Conference in Washington DC. Because of our mutual interest in election integrity, we had corresponded a number of times before that. I included her bio at the end of this piece so you can get a sense of who she is. E-Voting: Boon Or Bane for the Blind? is Suzanne's own Election Day experience.
As I read Diane and Alton's tale, Leviticus 19:14 kept running through my head. "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind." HAVA, the misnamed Help America Vote Act of 2002, was sold to the American public in part as a way to offer the disabled community voting independence. It has failed miserably at that task, as demonstrated by California's Top to Bottom Review last summer. Despite the fact that all four systems tested there had received federal and state certification, "none met the accessibility requirements of current law and none performed satisfactorily in test voting by persons with a range of disabilities and alternate language needs." (From the Executive Summary of the Bowen Report.) I highly recommend the 7/31/2007 article by John Gideon of Voters Unite, on how this all came to pass.
So, it saddens but does not surprise me that disabled voters continue to have problems with the very machines that were supposed to 'save' them.
Diane and Alton's story
Diane and Alton are both long-time voters and residents of Philadelphia, PA. They both take their right to vote seriously, and vote in every election. But, Diane and Alton don't take their right to vote for granted. With every election, they never know what to expect when they go to the polls.
This year was no
exception. They didn't know whether or not they'd be able
to vote independently and privately, if they would get
proper assistance, or if they would be able to vote at all.
Ever since Philadelphia has been using the Danaher 1242
machines with an audio component for blind people, Diane and
Alton have attempted to vote using this special component.
The first time they voted, the audio actually worked and,
although voting was time consuming, they enjoyed the process
of casting their own votes without
assistance. The next time they voted, the audio component was not working
properly, and it never has worked for them, since that first time.
This time was perhaps the worst. Not
only could they not use the machine, but the person who
assisted them in the booth was practically illiterate.
only did he have trouble pronouncing some of the candidates names, but he
also almost forgot to read them the questions that were listed at the bottom
of the ballot. Fortunately, Diane and Alton knew the questions and the
answers they wanted him to choose for them. If they hadn't, they probably
would not have had the opportunity to answer those questions.
Both of them have become
frustrated with the voting process. They were led
to believe that these machines would make it possible for them to vote
independently and privately, and they feel betrayed by everyone who told
them that the machines would help them to be more independent. When I
described the Vote-PAD, a tactile ballot marking device, they expressed
interest and wondered why it is not available in Pennsylvania.
Thousands of blind people have been
betrayed by those who led us to believe that, by using these
machines, we would gain our independence and privacy in the
voting booth. Like our sighted brothers and sisters, we can
not verify whether our vote has been counted as cast. But,
what's more, we were led to believe that we would finally
have the right to have our vote cast and
counted just like everyone else. Little did we know what that actually
Suzanne Erb has established
herself as a unique presence in Philadelphia. Blind since
birth, she has refused to allow any thought of disability to
hinder either her career or personal life. Ms. Erb has held
a variety of jobs of increasing responsibility ever since
her work for the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind,
after her graduation from Bryn Mawr College with a B.A. in
Musicology. She went on to earn an M.S. in Psychological
Services from the University of Pennsylvania, has founded
several community-based outreach organizations, and has
worked for Philadelphia's School District, the city's
Department of Human Services, the University of
Pennsylvania's Office of Affirmative Action and Abilitech, a
local training and job placement organization for those with
physical, sensory or learning disabilities. She is also an
expert in computer technology for the disabled. Most
recently, Ms. Erb worked for the Jewish Employment and
Vocational Services (JEVS), supervising case managers,
performing job counseling and publicly representing the
agency on various disability related issues. She is a
passionate believer in civic responsibility, and has served
on the boards or committees of such groups as the Mayor's
Commission on People with Disabilities, Pennsylvania's
Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Bureau of Blindness
and Visual Services, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania,
the Associated Services for the Blind, and the Tenants'
Action Group of Philadelphia. She also testified for
Congress in Washington, D.C., for a House Ways and Means
Committee hearing on Social Security reform, and has
authored several influential publications. Beyond all of
these activities, Ms. Erb still finds time to pursue her
work as a church organist and vocal soloist, and is a past
member of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia. She
resides in the city with her ever-loyal seeing-eye dog
Have an election story to tell? Send it to Joan@OpEdNews.com.
Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which exists for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. We aim to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Electronic (computerized) voting systems are simply antithetical to democratic principles.
CER set up a lending library to achieve the widespread distribution of the DVD Invisible Ballots: A temptation for electronic vote fraud. Within eighteen months, the project had distributed over 3200 copies across the country and beyond. CER now concentrates on group showings, OpEd pieces, articles, reviews, interviews, discussion sessions, networking, conferences, anything that promotes awareness of this critical problem. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005.