by Ryan Luby
From the Editor: The following report was carried on television station KETV in Lincoln, Nebraska. At issue is the right of the blind to vote using a machine that ensures a secret ballot at the same time and at the same place as sighted voters have one. Here is the story that was carried on October 10, 2012, followed by a resolution passed by the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska:
A blind woman has filed a complaint against the Lancaster County Election Commission. Fatos Floyd claimed that she was turned away from early voting on a machine that allows disabled people to vote without assistance. “They said, 'Well, the machine is not ready, and probably is not going to be ready for another ten days,'" Floyd told I-Team Investigator Ryan Luby.
Floyd said she and a blind friend planned to use the Automark machine at the Lancaster County Election Commission on October 4. Early voting began on October 1. "I said I do have a right to vote like anybody else, when the voting started. So I said, `Who do I need to talk to?’” Floyd said she asked the election office's staff.
She first turned to the Nebraska secretary of state, then Adam Morfeld, who founded the group called Nebraskans for Civic Reform. Morfeld advocates for equal voting rights. "I think that it's really important that people with disabilities, people who are blind, are able to exercise a right that's been afforded to them by the federal law--to vote independently and privately," Morfeld said. Morfeld pointed to the Help America Vote Act, part of which requires disabled voters to have private and independent access to voting machines such as the Automark machine. Regarding what happened to Floyd, Morfeld said it's a "clear violation of federal law."
The KETV NewsWatch 7 I-Team reached out to Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale and Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively. Both declined to comment on-camera. However, Shively issued the following statement: “I have had the opportunity to review the complaint filed with the Nebraska secretary of state by Ms. Fatos Floyd. I certainly understand her concerns. I have done everything in my power to have the Automark available as quickly as possible for early voting. However, the logistics in making this happen, including very specific certification deadlines outlined in state law and the printing of ballots, which is required before all programming can be completed by our vendor, have made it impossible for us to have the Automark operational during the first several days of early voting."
The I-Team learned Lancaster County joins every other Nebraska county--except Douglas County--dealing with logistical problems for early disabled voters. Douglas County programs its own Automark machines. The I-Team also reached out to state senator Bill Avery, who said he and his staff are already looking at possible legislative changes. One option may be to require the secretary of state to certify ballots prior to mid-September, which is the current deadline. A second option may be to push back the start of early voting to the second week of October. Any possible changes are merely speculation at this time.
Avery said this is the first time anyone has filed a complaint on this particular early-voting issue. Regardless of what changes occur, Morfeld said it should have happened long ago. "Well what concerns me the most is that it appears as though this has been an ongoing issue for the last eight or nine years," he said.
That's troubling to Floyd too, who's a naturalized United States citizen originally from Turkey. She said she lost her vision when she was eighteen years old, after she suffered from complications associated with brain surgery. She said doctors had to remove a brain tumor. Floyd moved to the United States in the early 1980s and married her husband Mike, who is also blind. "Especially because I am a naturalized citizen, voting is really important to me," she said. "I never miss an election; I use that right."
Given what happened to her last week, Floyd questioned the state's commitment to voting rights for blind people. "That we are not really an important group, that they wouldn't make the effort to make it so that we can vote at the same time [as everyone else]," she said. Floyd will have a hearing on the complaint she filed with the Nebraska Department of State in weeks to come.
As of Tuesday morning the Automark machine at the Lancaster County Election Commission was available for disabled voters. Shively said his office received the proper programming from the county's third-party vendor.
That is what KETV reported on its website. Here is what the blind of the state had to say:
WHEREAS, the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002; and
WHEREAS, the state of Nebraska began the implementation and use of accessible electronic voting machines in 2004; and
WHEREAS, on October 1, 2012, and following, the accessible Automark voting machine in the Lancaster County Election Commission office was not ready and available for use by blind and other qualified voters who required it for fair and equal early balloting along with their sighted peers: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of October, 2012, in the City of Kearney, Nebraska, that we call upon all elections officials in the state of Nebraska and its ninety-three counties to insure the full implementation of the Help America Vote Act, with accessible voting technology to be operational at all polling places available for early voting, as well as on election day; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization declare its firm intent to take all steps necessary (including pursuit of state legislation, if needed) to secure the rights of blind persons to use accessible voting technology in all elections held for public office at all levels within the state of Nebraska.