Election season is quickly approaching and advocates for voters with disabilities are pushing for accessible voting machines to be readily available at all polling locations.
Ballot marking devices are handicap accessible voting machines that are mandated to be at each polling place under the Help America Vote Act, also known as HOVA.
But residents like Mount Pleasant resident James Kiernan, who has been blind for seven years, says it’s not always that simple.
“Nobody told me there was a ballot marking device for six years. When I asked about the machine, it wasn’t turned on, it wasn’t plugged in and they didn’t have an instruction manual for it,” says Kiernan.
“It’s enlightening – what is there to help you, but it’s also very deterring in a sense because to know it’s been there and that it’s not accessible to anyone unless they ask for it,” says Kiernan’s daughter, Colleen Kiernan.
The state and Westchester Board of Elections didn’t respond to requests for comment. But according to HOVA, the devices are supposed to be up and running just like any other voting machine.
Berkeley College and a coalition of people with disabilities are pushing for change.
“If people with disabilities get out and actually vote, they can really make a difference in the votes that are cast and also they can impact who is actually getting elected,” says Berkeley College Disability Serviecs Director Dr. Sharon McLennon-Weir.
“The support exists, but we don’t know about it, we don’t know it exists, we’re not encouraged to go to the polls,” says Westchester Disabled on the Move Executive Director Maria Samuels. “That’s where the workshops come in that we have, it’s to let people know how to use the machines before they even get there.”