Thursday, October 29, 2020

Field notes on voting [early] with a disability

Signs on a fence
including a sign with
the universal disability
symbol and the word vote
I'm throwing together the following notes as advice and observations on voting in New York City with a disability. I'm doing this as a response because people have been asking me what's going on. I'm not posting this as an official poll worker or as an official of the Board of Elections or any other agency. Just a person with a disability who's been a poll worker on the Monday through Wednesday  up early voting in Brooklyn.

If you have an absentee ballot you can drop it off at any Board of Elections office or any early voting site or any voting site in New York City. But if you do not have a ballot and want to vote [early] you must go to the [early] voting site for voting site assigned to your address that can be found hereYou do not have to wait on line if you were dropping off an absentee ballot

There's no need to show up before the polls open. You'll just wait on line. On Thursday the polls open at 10 a.m. And Friday Saturday Sunday at 7 am. That might change check here.

If you have a disability that makes it hard for you to wait online you do not have to wait on line. Go right to the door with the accessibility sign on it or go in the door when people are dropping off their absentee ballot. It is a violation of HIPAA for a election worker to ask you about your disability. So if you say your disability prevents you from waiting online you don't have to wait on line. (If someone lies about a being disabled so they can get to the front of the line that's their problem)

Pets are not allowed into polling places. Service animals are! Don't hesitate to bring your service animal.  Poll workers are not allowed to ask people if their dogs are service animals. That would be a violation of HIPAA. It pisses me off when people just bring their pets in assuming we're not going to ask them about them. One can ask someone where their service animal was trained without violating HIPAA. It might embarrass the pet owner into leaving or just shame them a little.

Every poll site has at least one ballot marking device (BMD),  and multiple privacy boots that can accommodate a  wheelchair or just a chair so people can sit. If you think you need to sit you should just ask any poll worker and we will gladly bring you over to that. A ballot marking device is an electronic machine that will scan and help you mark your ballot. You can use a touchscreen,  mouse, foot pedal or sip-and-puff device. It also will translate your ballot into  a limited number of languages.  It will also read the ballot back to you. So it's very helpful for people with visual, manual dexterity or other mobility issues.

However, I have found that it creates extra problems for people not used to using a computer. It's not very intuitive if you are a first-time user of the device and some of the poll workers who have been "trained"  but are not exactly that sensitive to the needs of a disabled just bring people over to it to  it don't think they're doing them a favor. Not so much.

Remember, the BMD is used to mark a ballot, like a pen, it is not the voting machine; you still have to feed your marked ballot into the scanning voting machine.  After you feed your marked ballot into the voting machine, you have voted. 

This is the official Board of election web page regarding accessibility and the ballot marking device. 

This is the training video as poll workers are given about the ballot marking device. When I work on Election Day I happen to work where I vote. So I get my ballot as soon as the poll opens and make sure the BMD is working.  Some election days I'm the only person to use it. But that doesn't matter.

Also, You don't have to have disability to use the ballot marking device or the accessible privacy booth. You can use it if you just feel like sitting we're figuring out how a new machine works.  The more people that use these things the more likely they are to be available.Sadly, I hear that at some polling places the ballot marking devices are not setup properly and no one knows how to help people use them or direct people towards them.

As a poll worker I was required to enter into the employee entrance of the facility where we were working. It is accessible. There is an elevator and a staircase. But for no reason at all there was a sand bag on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. I need to hold the rail to walk down stairs and this  was an impediment to me. On the second day it occurred to me to mention this to someone who looked like a boss at the facility. His first answer was isn't there another side you can walk down.  Instead of ripping his head off and telling him that I should  be able to walk down any side of the staircase I wanted to I just mentioned that there was one on the other side also. An hour later he actually found me and told me he removed them both.

So voters! Don't let anything stop you from voting. 

If you think there's a problem at the poll site ask to speak to the supervisor or coordinator. At every early voting site there are professional Board of Elections staff there to help. And at every election day site there is a coordinator.  It's their job to help you vote and I sincerely believe the vast majority of them are passionate about their jobs. But if things don't work out, or you think it took an unreasonable amount of effort to make things work out I would encourage you to file a HAVA complaint form. 

Finally, keep in mind that the Board of Elections is way over its head in the job it has to get done in 2020. They were not built for this.  Not built for this perfect storm have a pandemic and potential Federal voter suppression.  I'm not saying they should be forgiven for every mistake I'm just saying knowing they are overwhelmed might make it easier for you to deal with them/us.  So far I think the job has been performed pretty well!

I wrote this as a board member of Disabled in Action of Greater New York and a Co-coordinator of the downstate chapter of ADAPT

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