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New York News

Disabled Call For Elimination of Lever Voting Machines

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Old-fashioned mechanical lever voting machines have been replaced with electronic devices in most elections in New York since the Help America Vote Act in 2002. Many of the older devices are still in use in local elections, and advocates for the disabled are demanding change.

Some school and fire districts may still use older voting booths with levers - advocates for the disabled across New York are calling for the elimination of the old in favor of scanner machines that "read" votes marked on special forms

Cliff Perez, systems advocate for the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, calls the lever system "archaic"...     "Which in itself, disenfranchises people, who, for whatever the reason are unable to use the lever machine. So whether they're a person with a disability regardless of the disability, or a person who, perhaps, English is not their primary language, who could benefit from being able to vote on the accessible machines, it could be switched to accommodate different languages, so these folks are being disenfranchised by this sunset law that New York State passed that ends on December of this year, which allows for local governments for non-federal elections to be able to utilize these lever machines."

Perez, who is legally blind, often gets to the polls to find the accessible voting machine either not plugged in or not turned on, or the people manning the polls unable to operate the machine.    "They call it 'the Handicap Machine,' they yell out loud letting everybody know I'm there and I can't see, and that if things are being held up it's because of this person trying to use this machine."

Perez is hoping more people will ask to use the scanners over lever machines.   "We encourage everyone and anyone to use the machine, even though it takes a little bit longer. The more people we can get to use the machine the more feedback we'll get, and I think that will then improve the system quicker."

The Help America Vote Act did earmark funds to properly train poll workers. A Rutgers and Syracuse University study found that nationally, voters with disabilities are more likely to complain about difficulty voting than their non-disabled counterparts.

The New York State Board of Elections is required to conduct a report on the administration of elections by villages, school districts and special districts and submit it to the Governor and State Legislature by January 31, 2015.  Lisa Tarricone is Director of Systems Advocacy for Westchester Independent Living Center in White Plains:   "And that would include recommendations and guidance to transition all local elections to electronic voting systems. So we're urging the State Board of Elections to make the report public and include a comprehensive and timely plan to end the use of lever voting machines."

The Board of Elections did not return several calls for comment.

As people with disabilities jockey for a voice at polls, Brad Williams, who directs the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC), explains they're also fighting for equal pay under the Employment First Policy for New York.    "People with disabilities who get advanced degrees, they earn $21,000 a year less than non-disabled workers with similar levels of education. So if you scale this up, the difference translates into $141 Billion dollars lost in earnings for the entire nation. Lost earnings from workers with disabilities could have added another $25 Billion in federal taxes and 6 point 5 billion in state taxes."

Activists are hoping to attract elected leaders to champion their causes.

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