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Getting voting equality within reach

September 25, 2008
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Unless you live in a hole, you are undoubtedly aware that this is election season. It is also the first year that New York state will be compliant (sort of) with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA is a federal law in which all voting machines in every polling place in the United States must be accessible to all voters to cast a private, independent ballot.

Accessible; that word probably just flew right over your head. Accessible in this case means, and I really loath saying it this way, handicapped-accessible. Yuck! Do everyone a favor and banish the word handicapped from your vocabulary unless you use it when talking about some kind of sport.

The term "handicapped" actually comes from a time when people with disabilities had no choice but to beg for money (cap in hand) in order to live. I have a disability and I've never begged for money to live a day in my life. I actually don't know anyone with a disability who has. So get off the word handicapped; it's really demeaning.

Now back to HAVA. It is the embarrassment of all embarrassments that New York state is the last one to comply (again, sort of) with HAVA. According to a report by the Election Assistance Committee, New York state has received $220 million (that's right, million) in federal HAVA funds and had only spent about $16 million by the end of 2007.

This HAVA thing isn't some surprise that fell from the sky unexpectedly. The federal law was put in place, requiring the implementation process to begin in 2002 and be fully functional by January 2006.

Guess what? Every state except New York met the deadline.

Why? How can that be? Did New York think that no one would notice? Well, no such luck. The U.S. Department of Justice did notice and sued the state of New York for non-compliance. After much foot dragging, and threats from an angry U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe, the state agreed to have at least one handicapped-accessible ballot-marking device per polling site by this September.

And New York has another deadline: The state's 20,000 mechanical lever voting machines must be replaced with the devices by fall 2009. Counties will divvy up $190 million in federal monies to buy new machines.

So now what? On Primary Day, just a few weeks ago, horror stories spread like wildfire through the state. Accessible machines were not set up, poll workers were not allowing voters using the new machines to sign in, privacy screens were not in place, and people requesting to use the new machines were discouraged by poll workers saying it would take "too long."

The list goes on and on. I'm not saying any of this happened at our local polling sites in the Tri-Lakes area, I really don't know. I will say that I do know that at the Harrietstown site poll workers were encouraging voters to use the new machines. Kudos to you, Harrietstown!

Why, pray tell, is this voting thing such a big deal? Because it is. People with disabilities are a voting contingent who have been forced to remain silent for years. There is a block of voters our country has not heard from. People with disabilities are not stupid, uneducated dummies; they are citizens of the United States of America, just like you. If you're thinking, "Save the money, make 'em vote absentee," then maybe stupid and uneducated applies to you, and you can vote. I'd like to be with you when you tell a combat vet with a disability to vote absentee, and that his/her vote won't be counted unless the vote is close and it needs to be counted.

I encourage everyone to VOTE IN NOVEMBER! I also encourage everyone to use the new machines to cast your ballot. The new machines aren't just for people with disabilities to use.heavens, that would be discrimination against people without disabilities, imagine that.

Eventually the new machines will be the machines; no options, other than absentee, to cast your ballot any other way.

President Johnson said, "The vote is the most powerful instrument ever

devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls that imprison men because

they are different from other men."

It amazes me that this "powerful instrument" has been physically placed out of the reach of one segment of the population for so long and that ridiculous notions like "people with disabilities prefer to vote absentee" or "If we made voting machines accessible, how many more votes would that mean?" are actually discussed and pondered by the local and state boards of elections.

Shameful, isn't it?

Vote, vote, vote.



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