A note on ADA’s 31st year anniversary

I am a blind Utahn and I’m proud to be part of a strong blind community that is socially, politically, and economically independent. Blind people use adaptive methods to live independently every day and in every possible way, and the last two decades have been particularly impactful on our community with incredible innovations in smartphones and intuitive voice recognition.

There are 50,000 Utahns and 1 million Americans like me. However, every time I try to vote, the process does not reflect the way I live the rest of my life and instead it is unnecessarily difficult. The disconnect is unacceptable.

Jeff Smith, Blind Voter, Salt Lake Tribune, February 17, 2021 

Jeff’s story is at the core of our mission: creating voter access for all. That mission serves democracy and is under threat. The technology exists to make voting accessible for people living with disabilities, but short-sighted legislation and regulations have made it needlessly difficult. 

A debate has emerged in which security and access have been pitted against each other. But our work has shown that it does not have to be this way. Our collaboration with election officials, researchers, and our case studies has shown that with advancements in mobile technology, blockchain, and monitoring we can keep critical infrastructure safe and be able to meet the needs of voters like Jeff.

The conversation needs to evolve. The very same critics who argued that any technology connected to the internet cannot be secured paradoxically argued that the last presidential election was the most secure to date, despite all the flaws in the traditional infrastructure.

This election was the best use case for increasing (not decreasing) the options for voting, including web-based voting and smartphone app-based voting, to bolster the strength of our democracy. 

After we’ve experienced, in the critics’ own words, the most secure elections to date, why would we move backward? Why would we revert to a time when the most vulnerable sections of society were effectively disenfranchised? Many critics purport to be scientists and advocates of research, innovation, and experimentation. This very absolutist attitude against any move forward goes against the very ethos of science. 

In January, 20 disability organizations urged lawmakers to exempt people with disabilities from the paper ballot mandate, noting that a paper ballot mandate would end all voting system innovation.  It would stop efforts to produce a fully accessible voting system that provides enhanced security without relying on inaccessible paper. 

Frustrated voting rights advocates have filed lawsuits to secure the ability for people to vote. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Alabama officials on behalf of several voters with disabilities. A federal district court agreed with the arguments and lifted the challenging requirements. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stayed that order.

When mobile voting is measured on the same yardstick as an absentee mail-in ballot for people with disabilities, here is how it stacks up:  

Voting MethodID PrivacyAudit
Mail-in ballot/ absentee ballotEmail confirmation Blind and voters with limited use of limbs – give us privacy Traditional risk-limiting audits, where voters do not  receive a ballot receipt and have no ability to audit the individual ballot
Mobile voting There is a 3-tiered ID verification Email, phone approval Video, photo and biometric confirmation Photo ID All voters will use devices already customized to them Complete end to end audit – with a voter receipt containing an anonymous ID that can be used to privately audit the ballot in a public citizens audit  

The recent election cycle has showcased beyond a doubt the urgency for voter engagement and building a chain of trust in our electoral processes; fundamental to that is ensuring that they can vote easily, privately, and securely. We invite you to join our movement to leverage technology to scale that access to more vulnerable voters.