by Judy Brown
(Editor’s Note: Judy Brown is chair of Washington Council of the Blind’s Government Affairs Committee.)
Over the last several years, the Washington Council of the Blind (WCB) has continued its efforts in making voting in Washington state accessible to all. At the October 2020 WCB virtual convention, we passed a resolution to support the work to make voting in Washington State fully accessible to blind and visually impaired persons.
Since that time, members of WCB have been active participants in various state and county committees to push forward the agenda of accessible voting. Washington is a mail-in ballot state. If you cannot see and read the paper ballot sent to you, you have a couple of options. You can have a sighted person assist you, thus eliminating your independence and anonymity. You can travel to a polling place and use an accessible voting unit. All you need to do is find transportation, arrive at a time that the polling place is open, hope the machine is working properly and if you need assistance, hope that someone has been trained to assist you. Or you can do what many visually impaired people end up doing – not vote.
Currently, there is a bill in the Washington state legislature, HB 1475, that would allow for secure, electronic ballot marking and submission. WCB and voting officials from several counties in Washington have been actively supporting this bill. WCB members have given testimony in Olympia. WCB members have submitted written testimony and lobbied their representatives.
But there is a huge obstacle – the Secretary of State. Representatives from the Secretary of State’s office testified against this bill. Non-specific security concerns were mentioned but not defined during their testimony. WCB understands there are some security and verification concerns. We encourage the Secretary of State to engage in more detailed conversations to help problem solve these concerns.
WCB members reached out to the Secretary of State several times to discuss the issues. As a result, a Secure and Accessible Voting Workgroup was formed. The group is comprised of county election officials, members of the visually impaired community including WCB, and representatives from the Secretary of State’s office.
The group has met monthly since September. At the November meeting, we were informed that Secretary Hobbs still does not support any legislation at this time and wants other suggestions. We suggested offering travel vouchers to assist those who need to travel many miles to get to a polling place that offers an Accessible Voting Unit (AVU). We were told there is no money in the budget for this idea. We suggested county officials offer to bring an AVU to groups of people such as senior centers and at meetings to facilitate voting – we were told that there is no money and not enough personnel in some counties. We suggested reaching out to the Help America Vote grant program for funding. This suggestion is still pending action.
WCB continues to support the idea of electronic ballot marking and submission. We believe that creating a voting portal will go a long way to help support many visually impaired voters. This type of secure portal will also help other disabled persons who have mobility and transportation issues. This method will also solve many signature validation issues that plague signed ballots each election cycle.
WCB continues to reach out to like-minded groups on this issue. We have reached out to Tusk Philanthropies and the Mobile Voting Project to discuss their “VoteHub” software. Members of WCB have been part of the testing for this software. We have worked with Democracy Live for several years to test and give input on their voting solution.
WCB will continue to actively work to find a workable solution for accessible voting for the blind and visually impaired in Washington state.