By Chris Hunsinger, Second Vice President
The title of this article is a reminder that our membership has passed a resolution that needs your on-going support to realize. As you should be aware of by now, at our October conference, we passed a resolution about accessible voting machines and absentee ballots. We have sent that resolution to all 67 county Boards of Election, our State Legislators, the Governor, the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, and the Secretary of the Commonwealth. We need to make all concerned know that we truly care about this resolution. We need everyone’s help to make that point.
The Advocacy and Government Affairs Team is asking that members and friends contact their county Board of Elections to let them know that we want to be part of the decision-making body of stakeholders in the county’s selection of accessible voting machines. Since each county will be making its own decision, it is vital that each of our members reach out to his or her specific county board to express concern and become involved in hands-on testing of pending voting systems.
We also know that the absentee ballot system that is now in use is filled with obstacles to private independent voting, so we want that to change as well. It also is important that we contact our state legislators to let them know about the absentee ballot issue because some of the changes may well require legislation. For many people the convenience of No Excuse Absentee Ballots would make it easier to acquire a ballot without much paperwork. But to make the system fully accessible, the ballots will need to be provided in an accessible format for us such as by phone or online—not a print paper we need to fill out.
I am giving you links to find contact information for your county’s Board of Elections and to locate your state legislators’ offices. The link for the list of county election officials is: tinyurl.com/PACountyElections. Make a note of the official in charge and address your comments to that individual. You can look up your State legislators at: legis.state.pa.us if you don’t have access to the Internet, call the PCB office at 877-617-7407 to ask for assistance in getting your contacts.
Here is a script for you to use with your county.
“My name is _____ and I am a member of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. I live in _____ county and would like to speak to (the individual you noted as the election contact person).
Our organization recently passed and sent to your office a resolution on Accessible Voting Machines and Accessible Absentee Ballots. Since the counties will be picking new voting equipment from a list of equipment newly certified by the State of Pennsylvania, I want you to consider the views and opinions of people who will need accessible voting machines when the county is making the decision about which equipment to buy. I am concerned because none of the machines the state has been demonstrating include an accessible feature that enables people who have vision loss to verify their paper ballot. And of course, the old fashion pre-printed paper ballot and pen, like our current absentee voting process uses is not accessible to us either. There are ways that both the in-person and absentee processes can be made fully accessible so people with vision loss can exercise their right to an independent and private vote. I encourage you to consult with the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind or other organizations of the blind to determine what method will work best for our county and its residence with significant sight loss. Please keep me informed of any nearby demonstrations of voting equipment and meetings where the purchase of the equipment will be discussed, so that I too can be a part of the process. Let me give you PCB’s contact information and mine as well.”
Be sure you have PCB’s contact information which is in the front cover of this newsletter.
With your legislators it is important to explain that the current absentee ballot system is neither accessible nor independent. Short turnaround times, communication by mail, and the use of pen and ink ballots make it difficult for blind people to handle this process in an independent manner. We seek an overhaul of the system that makes it accessible to all.
Join your PCB peers as we hold statewide call-in days on January 8 and 9, 2019. We’ll each be reaching out to our county election officials, state legislators, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, and the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation so that our voting rights issue is brought to everyone’s attention. More information will be available on the listserv and information line.