Government Operations Committee
New York City Council
September 26th, 2008

Good Morning Chairman Felder. My name is Dorie Rush and I am the Director of Advanced Accessible Technology at Lighthouse International. Lighthouse International was founded in 1905 and is dedicated to preserving vision and to providing critically needed rehabilitation services and advocacy to help people of all ages overcome the challenges of vision loss. Lighthouse International has been a leader in vision healthcare for New Yorkers for more than 103 years. I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today regarding voter accessibility.

This upcoming election is going to be historic and poll sites throughout New York City will experience record turnout. Traditionally, voters with visual impairments have required the assistance of poll workers or have used absentee ballots to cast their votes. In compliance with the voter accessibility requirements set forth in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), each poll site in NYC will be equipped with the ES&S AutoMARK ballot marking devices.

The following are some suggestions for increasing awareness and ensuring that for the first time voters with visual impairments will be able to secretly and independently cast their vote.

Outreach and partnership with service providers
Greater efforts to inform the public about the availability of these machines must be made prior to Election Day. By partnering with service providers and not-for-profits that serve people with visual impairments we can maximize utilization and ensure that all voters have the knowledge that these new machines are available. Such outreach will also enable voters to familiarize themselves with the new machines prior to Election Day so that voters are comfortable using these new machines.

Training of Poll Workers
Poll workers must be properly trained in the workings of ballot marking devices and should be comfortable with their use as well. Because their will be only one machine per poll site, poll workers should be required to remind voters of the availability of ballot marking devices if needed. This will both increase utilization and provide a sense of comfort for voters who may be reluctant to ask about the ballot marking device.

Availability of Machines Prior to Election Day
One way to increase utilization and familiarity with the machine is set up training days prior to Election Day. At such trainings, workers will demonstrate the functionality of these new machines and voters can familiarize themselves with its workings. With proper outreach and partnership with service providers, voters would be aware of each training session and attend a session at their convenience.

Last Friday, Lighthouse International hosted LITE 2008 which brought together more than 25 companies, including the MTA, to showcase assistive and everyday accessible technologies that make life easier for people with vision loss. This event was well attended by people with visual impairments and would have been the ideal setting to show case new voting machines and allow people with visual impairments the ability to familiarize themselves with this new technology. Unfortunately, we were unable to arrange to have a ballot marking device on display.

Lighthouse International stands ready to work with the city of New York over the next six weeks to achieve proper outreach. Working together we can increase awareness and ensure that all voters with visually impairments can cast their vote secretly and independently. Thank you for your time.

 

 

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