By Joseph Sickora
I have always attempted to utilize accessible voting alternatives ever since they became available. When I voted in my first election, I was a resident of Park Towers in Philadelphia. I relied on a fellow resident to assist me. She was a Democratic Party member who didn’t like me splitting my ticket, so she voted me straight instead of continuing to read me the ballot choices.
Back then, talk radio in Philadelphia and TV news did not hesitate to have politicians as guests, so splitting my ticket was as natural as eating a mixed bowl of cereal while listening to Joel A. Spivak.
Having accessible voting equipment didn’t end my problems. While voting in the 2008 primary, a contest where I went to the internet for information to supplement what I watched on TV, the ballot for the delegates read strangely. My pole workers were my neighbors who calmed me down after I started crying.
Whenever I got transported to poles while living in Bristol, I knew my drivers would give me their pitch. I frequented business establishments and participated in religious activities, but it seemed peculiar that people didn’t feel comfortable talking politics until that last-minute plea.
I share these experiences so you can feel that I can relate to your situation.
Yet, perhaps the most vexing advocacy challenge I have faced is the reluctance of blind residents of my current Bucks County, and the other counties where I have lived who chose not to try the technology.
So, as fallout to the last election still simmers, I wanted to urge our peers to answer some questions which have occurred to me.
The assumption behind regulations for our voting equipment is that it could be designed to help both technically-inclined and non-technical people.
If you are in the non-technical category, did you appreciate not having to use a keyboard to type in results? Did you feel more comfortable just using the keys to move through the ballot to select your candidate? What would it take for you to give the equipment a try?
If you are someone who has experience typing, are you turned off by not having a machine that would allow you to manually type in results, or simply use the spacebar or enter key to select or deselect candidates?
My fear is that peers who fall into the non-technical category may feel that they are more comfortable with someone assisting them, and perhaps if you feel that way, you find my urging you to trying the equipment to be an intrusion, and I should mind my own business.
Perhaps the people who have keyboarding skills feel that a machine that doesn’t allow full use of your skills just isn’t worth your time. Perhaps the idea of using a mail-in ballot provided the incentive of voting without the hassle of working with pole workers who weren’t comfortable with you and the machines. This was the most socially-distanced alternative for those fearing exposure to COVID-19, but only fifty people chose to use the specially-designed mail-in ballot.
What occurs to me is the proposition that designing a machine for both groups is impossible. Would participation by our community be higher if we suspended this premise? This suspension assumes that the less technically-inclined voter is so used to having assistance and may not be interested in a different alternative.
Increased participation will happen by reflection within our community. The easiest thing is to blame this state of affairs on election officials, but if we can get a better handle on the thinking and preferences of blind people inside and outside of advocacy circles, we will be better off in the long run. Our advocates can give a nuanced explanation as to where to go from here in terms of machine design and voting place protocols.
I enjoy reading about the developments relative to the adaptive technology we use. It is inspiring to read about the talented people whose efforts have led to more progress.
I believe that people from both sides of my conundrum must be heard. When someone on my level speaks of their experiences, I am inclined to appreciate the fits and starts of progress I’ve made. So, if you have had a good experience with voting and your background comes from a person who doesn’t use a keyboard, your positive experience will influence others to try, rather than someone who is more at home in a technical setting.
Our accessibility needs are now caught up in a much broader electoral discussion. Who can and cannot vote, how votes are cast and counted, and who gets to review that count and decide elections have been placed into serious question. If we do not speak now, we might lose what progress we have made. What will the new rules be? What technology will evolve, and how accessible will this new technology be? To what degree must we rely on drop-boxes and on the post office? How will overall electoral reform affect our specific accessible needs? Does our community face marginalization as various forces compete to shape and control the electoral process? The only way we can make sure we have a place at the electoral table is to speak up and speak up loudly. Vision loss should be no bar to full participation in our society, including the political realm, and self-suppression, where we are too afraid or just don’t bother, can only lead to us having a harder time exercising our constitutional right to vote.