2006 Conference General Sessions

DISABILITIES, (E)VOTING AND ACCESS: A SURVEY OF VOTER SATISFACTION

 

 

Presenter(s)

Robert Roy
ITTATC/CATEA/Georgia Institute of Technology

490 10th Street
Atlanta GA 30318

Day Phone: 404-894-1412

Email: rob.roy@coa.gatech.edu

 
Presenter #2
Paul Baker
Wireless RERC/CACP/Georgia Institute of Technology

250 14Th St. NW
Atlanta GA 30318

Day Phone: 404-385-4618
Email: paul.baker@cacp.gatech.edu

In a representative democracy the process of selecting those who represent the electorate is critical and ensuring fair and valid elections have been of concern as long as elections have been held. In the United States, the voting process since early in the last century has generally moved to one of increasing inclusiveness and representation. A broadly recognized solution to the problem of mechanical failure in machine tabulation, c-voting, has been extensively debated in the literature, but mostly from a purely technological standpoint. While these machines, have generally delivered on the promises of increased accuracy, more timely generation of results, and flexibility in terms of ability to address the needs of a wide range of capacities, nevertheless the machines operate with in a complex environment moderated by social and behavioral variables. For people with disabilities (PWD) barriers to voting arise not only from physical factors such as inaccessible facilities, or limitations of voting technology per se, but from less recognized and more insidious cultural, social or awareness related factors. This paper presents some of the preliminary findings of a pilot survey of voters, using manual and electronic voting and with and without disabilities to help assess and identify potential issues, barriers and opportunities that may impede the voting process for people with disabilities.

VOTING AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILTITIES
People with disabilities, like other disadvantaged groups, are less likely to participate in electoral politics than other more-advantaged groups (Schur et. al., 2002). While many scholars agree that barriers to voting, physical barriers to reaching and entering the voting place, inaccessible or otherwise unusable voting booths and systems, and problems with interaction with poll workers represent the greatest problems to electoral participation, not all scholars agree that these barriers are the only reason voters do not vote. Exactly how individuals with disabilities vote is just as important, as an increasing shift toward electronic voting has heightened debates between issues of accessibility and privacy (Danielsen and Zimmerman, 2005).

Perhaps even more important, however, are issues that Danielsen and Zimmerman identify regarding recount law reform, inadequate poll worker training, unfettered and unsupervised access by vendor technicians to voting machines on election day, and jurisdictions with inadequate technology contingency plans in the case of machine breakdowns. They note that there exist many opportunities for collaboration and that stakeholders must work together to address concerns of certifying voting equipment, establishing election procedures, ensuring transparency, and above all, presenting a united front to voting system vendors at all levels. Otherwise, voting systems will be adopted that imperfectly address security and accessibility concerns separately, can artificially cast against the other.

METHOD
Participants were recruited from across the county via list—serves for various disability organizations, and the mass media. The online survey of 48 closed and 2 open ended questions was administered between October 2004 and mid February 2005, using Survey Solutions, Professional Edition software. For respondents who did not have access to the Internet or otherwise found the survey inaccessible, accommodations were made to toke the survey over the phone. Over the 5 month period 563 unique voter experiences/respondents participated in the survey. Uniqueness of respondents was determined by reviewing IP address and discarding any duplicated and incomplete records.

RESULTS
The 563 respondents to the voter satisfaction survey were assigned to two groups: those reporting having a disability (PWD) and those who reported they did not have a disability, with a further desegregation by type of voting machine used, electronic or not electronic. 58% of the respondents reported no disability and 42% reported having a disability. The split between electronic or E-voting and all other methods of voting, henceforth referred to as manual was 400 (71%) electronic and 163 (29%) manual.

Voting:
Of the 563 respondents 8 reported that they were not able to cast their ballot, all of which reported having a disability. Seventy five respondents (13.3%) reported needing assistance in the act of voting (3% of the non—disabled respondent vs. 26.6 % of PWD)

Barriers to Voting:
Three questions were asked about voting machines with built in accessibility accommodations. Seventeen (3.0%) respondents reported using the available adjustments; with use of headphones and volume control the most used adjustments. Next respondents were asked to indicate any barriers to accessibility encountered and list any potential usability problem encountered while voting. There were 347 instances of reported barriers including size or display of the text, 71 (20.5%), problems with placement or design of controls 109 (31.4%), or audio/sound output 167 (48.1%). Not unexpectedly PWD reported experiencing overall greater problems with 209 (60.2%) instances vs. 138 (38.9%) instances or the non-disabled voter. Of interest is the fact that 16% of respondents, overall, reported that the lack of privacy was an issue, the largest usability issue reported by both non disabled and PWD groups.

 

Satisfaction with Voting Process:
Of the 13 satisfaction questions asked 7 showed a statistically significant difference in how PWD viewed their experience when compared with voters without disability. These can be grouped into three categories:
— Satisfaction of experience - PWD were approximately 10% less likely to report being satisfied with the experience;
- Satisfaction with polling officials/place — PWD were 9%—l8% less likely to report satisfaction with polling officials or place;
- Satisfaction with voting machine accessibility - PWD were 7% to 20% less likely to report satisfaction with the equipment.

General Observations from Open-ended Questions:
Open ended questions asking for a description of any additional problems had while voting
(253 respondents)
* 12.2% reported complaints concerning use of a voting device that tended to impact all
users
* 9.1% reported complaints regarding poll worker activity that impacted at voters with
* 4.7% reported complaints regarding poll worker activity that somehow impacts accessibility of voting
* 5.9% reported complaints concerning use of a voting device that primarily impacted PWD
* More that 2 time as many PWD’s disagreed with the statement that “It was clear that the polling officials understood how to operate the electronic voting machines.”

On the other hand:
* 79% of those responding to the statement “Using an electronic voting machine improved my voting experience” did so indicating agreement with the statement. There was no statistical difference between the two groups.
* 81% of PWD’s responding to the statement “I believe electronic voting machines will encourage more PWD’s to vote” were in agreement with the statement. Interestingly, there was no statistical difference between PWD and people without disabilities.

CONCLUSIONS:
Fifteen years after the implementation of the ADA, and three years out from passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), results of this preliminary survey suggest that, overall, people with disabilities continue to report greater problems with all aspects of the voting process that people without disabilities. While e—voting machines do represent a solution to some of the problems of voting, as currently implemented, they still (if inadvertently) present additional barriers for some voters. While not by any means conclusive, the findings suggest that while c—voting can assist in reducing barriers to voting by people with disabilities, 1) continued technological efforts need to be made to fine tune their efficacy; and 2) increased efforts need to be made to improve the voting context (human as well as environmental factors) in which voting machines operate.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:
The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Nathan W. Moon, Mike Williams, Carl
Blunt, Dennis Folds, in conducting this research. This is a publication of the
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC) at Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) a unit of the College of
Architecture
. ITTATC is sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and
Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education under grant number
H133A000405. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do
not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.

REFERENCES:
Danielsen, Christopher S. and Matt Zimmerman. Electronic Voting, Human Rights: The
Journal of the Section of Individual Rights & Responsibilities 32, no. 2 (Spring 2005)
9—12.
Harrington, James C. Pencils Within Reach and a Walkman or Two: Making the Secret Ballot Available to Voters Who Are Blind or Have Other Physical Disabilities, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights 4, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 1999) : 87—105.
3

Schriner, Kay and Todd C. Shields. Empowerment of the Political Kind: The Role of
Disability Service Organizations in Encouraging People with Disabilities to Vote,
Journal of Rehabilitation 64, no. 2 (April-June 1998): 33—38.
Schur, Lisa, Todd Shields, Douglas Kruse, and Kay Schriner. Enabling Democracy:
Disability and Voter Turnout, Political Research Quarterly 55, no. 1 (March 2002):
167—190.


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