Secretary of State Raffensperger Works to Ensure Fair Fight for Voters with Disabilities

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

As part of the effort to ensure voting access to all Georgians, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger identified and selected a voting system that will provide greater voting access to Americans with disabilities.

“Georgia has provided a secret ballot to its citizens since 1922 and I am proud that Georgia’s new paper-ballot system will ensure this democratic tradition continues,” Raffensperger said. “Physical or other limitations should not stop anyone from enjoying the right to vote in privacy.” 

Earlier this year, as part of a years-long, transparent process to modernize Georgia’s voting, Secretary Raffensperger selected Dominion Voting Systems to develop a new, secure, paper-ballot voting system for Georgia. The new system features a touchscreen interface that will maximize accessibility for Georgians with disabilities, while also providing a paper ballot to ensure all voters can verify the accuracy of their vote.

The system provides numerous first-time features that ensure ballot access for voters with disabilities:

Large print;

High- or low-contrast displays;

Touchscreen selection;

Hand devices;

Headsets; and

Sip and Puff.

The new system and the available accessibility options ensure the privacy, integrity and security of access for Georgia’s disabled voters. Unlike with a hand-marked only system, members of this underserved community with physical limitations will be able to vote on their own and enjoy the same right to a private and secret ballot that all Americans are entitled to. In some states, voters with disabilities are forced to use a different type of voting system than everyone else. This is unfair to the disabled community. Georgia is providing the same system for all voters, regardless of physical ability.

This system demonstrates that it is possible to both maintain security of the vote through a verifiable paper record and ensure Americans of all physical abilities can enjoy the same right to a private and secret ballot.

Earlier this month, the new voting system was successfully piloted in six counties for November municipal elections across the state.

What They Are Saying About Ballot Marking Devices

Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox (1999-2007): “In the coming year, advocates who sought a fully auditable paper trail, which was not available to us in 2001, will get the extra security that comes with a paper ballot, while the ‘ballot-marking’ touch-screen computer will ensure that ballots are marked correctly, even for voters with disabilities.”

National Federation of the Blind Accessibility Director Lou Ann Blake: “Georgia shouldn’t adopt the hand-marked paper ballots pushed by computer experts and good government groups … because the blind can’t use them. And if the blind can’t use them, neither should anyone else.”

Center for American Progress’ S.E. Smith and Rebecca Cokley: “But the paper ballot mandate that has become a cornerstone of the For the People Act is also of concern to the disability community, which fears potential access issues that should be addressed from the outset to ensure that secure elections are accessible to all. … One solution to this is a ballot-marking device (BMD), a technology that physically marks ballots for voters who cannot do so themselves.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures: “If a ballot marked by a remote ballot marking device looks different than ballots marked by other means, this could prevent voter anonymity. If only a few ballots are cast that look different than most, it could be possible to determine how an individual voter voted.”

Politico’s Eric Geller: “While election security advocates have suggested precincts use paper-based systems for most voters and a few ballot-marking devices without barcodes for people with disabilities, disability-rights advocates say that setting aside special machines amounts to a discriminatory system. Given that dispute, ballot-marking devices strike many election officials as a reasonable compromise.”

Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Mark Niesse: “Georgia would become the first state in the country to rely entirely on these kinds of voting machines, called ballot-marking devices, for every voter on Election Day. Some jurisdictions in many other states use similar voting systems, often to assist voters with disabilities.”

Associated Press’ Ben Nadler: “While many states use these types of machines in some areas, often to assist disabled voters, Georgia would be the first to make them the primary voting method statewide.”