Purchasing an Accessible Voting System

What do we need in an accessible voting machine?

Blind users need a machine that can be configured for audible voting with as much ease as possible. The machine should be usable by all voters with minimal or no training needed. The accessible voting terminals in precincts should not be set aside for the use of blind or disabled voters only. All voters should vote on the same type of machine at a polling location. A machine should be usable by both blind and sighted voters.

What should happen during the ballot review process?

As blind voters, we should be able to move freely from contest to contest and not be required to listen to all  instructions and text. However, all of the text of each contest must be present if we choose to listen to it. The visual appearance of the ballot does not have to be reflected in the audio presentation, as long as all the information is presented audibly.

At the beginning of the ballot, voters should be informed of the total number of contests. Each contest should be described as it is presented.  As contests are selected, the total number of candidates, and the maximum number of candidates to vote for, must be announced. As candidates are selected, the total number selected should be announced.  A voter should have the ability to decide to cast votes, skip to another contest, or "under vote " the contest.

Voters must be able to cast their votes at any time.  A review function must be available, and the voter must have the opportunity to decide whether to listen to the review or cast their vote immediately. During the review process, it should be possible to move freely between contests and to have the chance to change a previous selection.  In addition, blind voters should retain the possibility of obtaining the assistance of a sighted reader at any time during the voting process.

If no user input is provided to the voting terminal for more than twenty seconds, an instruction should be given regarding the choice to be made.  The system should not move on to another selection or action until an item is completed. If a voter does not take any action for several minutes, the machine should indicate that the voting process is about to terminate with no ballot cast. This protects against someone else voting in place of the present voter.

Other than the lack of vision, blind voters have the same capabilities as sighted voters. If a machine is in demonstration mode it should announce this fact. Otherwise no special message is needed.

Evaluation Criteria for Electronic Ballot Marking Systems

The following criteria are preferred by a cross section of blind and low-vision voters.

  • Machines should be easy to use by both blind and sighted voters and poll workers.
  • The user interface keypad should not require technical expertise, and it should be easy to learn at the polling location.
  • Instructions on how to use the system should not be front-end loaded, but should be contextual with specific instructions provided based on the action required by the voter and location within the ballot marking and printing process.
    • Instructions must be concise and provide a complete list of the buttons and their functions.
    • Buttons must be referenced by both shape and color.
    • Voters should be able to move from the instructions to the ballot at any time without having to listen to all the details.
  • The speech must either be high quality synthetic speech or a high quality digital recording of human speech.
    • Capable of proper pronunciation of candidates' names and information unique to local areas.
  • Accessibility features:
    • A standard 1/8th inch stereo mini jack should be provided so that audio is heard in both ears.
    • The audio ballot should always be on and should not require activation by the poll worker
    • Voter can blank screen when using audio only voting
    • Voter can use touch screen and audio voting at the same time
    • When using visual-only voting on the touch screen,  the voter must be able to make the following choices on the touch screen:
      • Large font
      • High-contrast font
      • Reverse colors such as white letters on a black background
  • The volume and tempo of the audio should be adjustable by the voter through the user interface keypad.
    • Recordings should be made so that there are no fluctuations in volume among the various steps of the voting process.
    • When the audio ballot starts, the initial volume setting must be high enough that the voter can easily hear the ballot in a polling place setting.
  • User interface keypads must have:
    • Reasonably large size buttons that require a moderate amount of pressure to activate
    • Button function must be distinguishable based on shape and high-contrast color
    • A pressed button must be confirmed audibly
  • For write-in votes:
    • Each letter must be selectable by confirming with the select key.
    • There should be a spelling option to review letters entered.
    • The spell function should pronounce the word after it has been spelled.
    • Instructions for selecting letters and completing the write-in selection must be clear and available during the write-in process.
  • Help should be available throughout the voting process.
    • A separate button should be used to request help.
    • Help should be contextual, with specific help provided depending on where in the process the voter is when requesting help.
  • Ballot review process must:
    • Indicate the candidate(s) selected for each contest.
    • Indicate any contests not voted or under-voted.
  • Ballot printing:
    • If there is a time lapse before the ballot is printed after the print button has been pressed, an audible message should inform the voter that the ballot is processing.
    • Once the ballot has printed, a blind voter should be able to privately and independently verify that the ballot printed correctly, if they choose to do so.
    • Printed ballots must be scanned into the same ballot box as hand-marked ballots.

Evaluation Criteria for Web-Based Electronic Voting Systems

The World Wide Web Consortium has developed the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that should be followed to ensure that websites and web-based applications are accessible to users with disabilities. These guidelines provide developers with the information necessary to ensure that graphics, tables, form controls, color contrast, interactive components, page structure and navigation, and other elements are properly designed to enable all users to successfully transact their business with the site or application. While it is recommended that all WCAG Level AA guidelines be followed, the following sections address the most critical access barriers that are likely to be encountered with web-based voting systems and suggest the types of solutions to ensure the behavior blind users will expect.


  • All active graphics, those providing information or anticipating user interaction, have an alternative text description (ALT attribute).
  • Images used for spacing or decoration have their ALT attributes set to a null value, ALT="".

Table Markup

  • Tables are not used to perform page layout or element positioning functions, which are more appropriately accomplished through cascading style sheets (CSS).
  • Cells that should be treated as row and column headers are correctly identified.
  • Multiple leveled headers are correctly nested.

Form Control Labels

  • All edit fields, combo boxes, checkboxes, and radio buttons have an HTML LABEL tag that provides meaningful information.
  • Required fields are indicated by the use of an asterisk (*) or similar character, which is included in the label tag.
  • All supplemental information, such as desired format of data input, is included in the label tag.

Radio Buttons, Checkboxes, and Grouped Controls

  • The HTML FIELDSET and LEGEND tag pair are utilized in all cases where it is necessary to convey a contextual relationship between labeled controls and a "parent question."

Keyboard Accessible

  • All controls on a page are keyboard accessible.
  • All clickable text is enclosed in an HTML anchor tag.
  • Where a tab order is used to control user navigation, all controls necessary to carry out a function are included in the tab order.


  • HTML headings are utilized to organize each web page.

For more information or to see the entire list of W3C guidelines, please visit w3.org/wai.

Click here to view an accessible web-based ballot. 

We should note that all of the voting machines demonstrated in the National Center on Nonvisual Election Technology have some of the features discussed here, though no single machine has every feature. It is possible for most blind voters to vote independently on these machines. However, we continue to work with the manufacturers and voting officials on improvements to the machines and the voting process.

For additional information on accessibility design of electronic voting machines, vote-by-phone systems, and web-based voting systems, please view or download the Nonvisual Access Election Technology Guide.

Electronic Ballot Delivery System Accessibility/Usability Guidelines

Electronic ballot delivery systems are becoming increasingly popular as the accessible alternative in vote-by-mail states and as the accessible way to vote by absentee ballot. The inaccessibility of paper ballots can be effectively ameliorated by electronic ballot delivery to the disabled voter’s own computer, permitting the disabled voter to use accessibility software to read, fill out, and print the ballot. Because the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) do not address electronic ballot delivery systems, the NFB mobile voting working group developed guidelines that voting system developers should follow to make electronic ballot delivery systems accessible.

Electronic Ballot-Delivery System: User Survey

While great progress has been made since the passage of HAVA to make the voting process accessible, some voters with disabilities, such as the deaf-blind, are not able to vote privately and independently on the accessible voting machines typically found in the polling place. Instead, a deaf-blind voter must tell her choices to a family member or friend who marks the ballot for her. Electronic ballot-delivery systems, when properly designed, can remedy this situation by enabling voters with disabilities to exercise their fundamental right to cast a secret ballot by using their own access technology. These systems allow voters to access and mark their ballot at home, work, or school using personal access technology such as a refreshable Braille display connected to a computer. The marked ballot can then be printed and mailed, or emailed as an attachment, to the voter's local board of elections.

With the increasing use of electornic ballot-delivery systems as an absentee voting and/or accessible voting system, data is needed to evaluate how these systems are implemented and what voters think about them. The National Federation of the Blind mobile voting working group has developed a user survey for online ballot-delivery systems that state and local boards of elections can use to obtain feedback from voters who obtain and mark their ballots through an online ballot-delivery system. Elections officials who use these survey questions are encouraged to send their data to Lou Ann Blake, NFB HAVA project manager, for inclusion of the data in the NFB's national repository of data generated with these questions. Data in the repository will be made available to elections officials and researchers.

HAVA Usability Checklist


  • Can poll workers be trained to assist blind voters with minimal interaction?
  • Can poll workers be trained to assist blind voters without the need for using actual blind voters in the training process?
  • Is the voting machine accessible in default mode? That is preferred but is not necessary.
  • Can the voting machine be switched to accessible mode easily and quickly (in less than 10 seconds)?
  • Does an incorrect attempt at mode-switching pose any risk of invalidating votes from other voters?
  • Does an incorrect attempt at mode-switching pose any risk of incapacitating a voting station?
  • Does an incorrect attempt at mode-switching pose any risk of committing to voting in an inaccessible mode for a given voter (i.e., you cannot back out)?
  • Can the voting machine be switched out of accessible mode easily and quickly (in less than 10 seconds)?
  • Does the voting machine switch back to default mode automatically after a voter votes in accessible mode?
  • Can a poll worker easily reset a voting machine to accessible or default mode if a ballot is abandoned mid-voting?


  • Can the voter ask questions of the poll worker before the voting process gets started?
  • Who initiates the voting process - the poll worker or the voter? It should be the voter.
  • Are the initial instructions that are provided by the poll workers before leaving the voting area sufficiently simple and understandable?
  • Can the voter restart the voting training process if the poll worker or the voter initiates the voting training process too early?
  • Can the voter or poll worker restart the voting training process after voting has been initiated?
  • Do the voting machine operating instructions sufficiently explain how to operate the machine in accessible mode, or is poll-worker instruction required?  (The machine should explain how to operate it in accessible mode).
  • Is the audio interface easy to understand by anyone who can understand English?
  • Is the audio interface easy to understand by non-native English speakers?
  • Is the audio interface easy to understand by speakers of other languages?
  • Is the tactile interface easy to discriminate?
  • Is the tactile interface reasonably intuitive (by separating functions between different buttons or tactile zones)?
  • Is the interface forgiving of tactile mistakes (incorrect key or screen presses)?
  • Is the tactile interface easy to remember?
  • Are the tactile interface functions consistently separated (with functions not overloaded in different modes)?
  • Are all audio instructions easy to remember, including how to:
    • hear which contests are available;
    • hear descriptive information available for a contest;
    • select between multiple contests;
    • hear which candidates are available for a given contest;
    • select one or more candidates;
    • go back and change selections for a given contest;
    • confirm selections;
    • cast the ballot when finished;
    • get help at any time; and
    • cancel the voting process entirely?
  • Is the voter given the opportunity to hear instructions as many times as needed?
  • Is the voter clearly told how to initiate the voting process?
  • Can the voter initiate the voting process without assistance?

Voter Identity

  • Can a voter easily identify himself/herself to the voting machine?
  • Is the voter assured that the voter identification step is secure?
  • Is the voter's identity confirmed in the voting initiation process?
  • Is voter eligibility confirmed for general, open elections?
  • Are voter eligibility and voting restrictions confirmed for races where party affiliation may restrict voting options?
  • Is the voter's party affiliation confirmed at the voting station at the time of voting?


When learning about what contests or races are available:

  • Is the voter told how many contests are included in a given election?
  • Is the voter required to make any unnecessary actions to discover what contests or races are available?

When moving between contests or races:

  • Is the voter required to listen to the entire text of a contest title or race before moving to the next one?
  • Is the voter warned if no option is selected before moving on to the next contest or race?
  • Is the voter required to take an action to switch between one mode scrolling through a list of contests/races and another mode scrolling through a list of candidates/options?
  • Can the voter inadvertently cast the ballot by moving beyond the end of the list of contests or races?

When learning about what candidates or options are available:

  • Is the voter told how many candidates or options are available for a given contest or race?
  • Is the voter required to listen to the entire text of an option before moving to the next one?
  • Is the voter warned if no options were heard in their entirety, yet an option was selected, before moving to the next contest or race?
  • After listening to available options for a given contest or race, can the voter inadvertently move on to the next contest or race?

When selecting candidates or options:

  • Is the action required to select a candidate or option intuitive?
  • Is the selection of candidate or option confirmed via audio?
  • Is the selection of a candidate or option interruptible?
  • Is the action required to deselect a candidate or option intuitive?
  • Is the deselection of a candidate or option confirmed via audio?
  • Is the deselection of a candidate or option interruptible?
  • Is the voter clearly informed when multiple selections may be made for a given contest or race?
  • Is the voter updated as to how many more selections may be made when multiple selections may be made in a contest or race?
  • Is the voter clearly informed if he or she tries to make too many selections for a given contest or race?
  • Is the voter reminded how to deselect candidates or options when he or she attempts to select too many candidates or options for a contest or race?
  • Is the voter reminded to verify or cast the ballot after selections have been made for all contests or races?

In general:

  • Can a novice voter finish voting in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Is the interface always recoverable?
  • Does the interface actively tell the voter what can be done at any given time?
  • Will the interface tell the voter what can be done at any given time if asked to do so?
  • If a voter abandons a voting station before casting the ballot, are any of the votes counted?

When verifying and casting the ballot:

  • Is the voter given the option to verify selected candidates and options?
  • Is the voter clearly told how to verify selected candidates and options?
  • Are verifying and casting of the ballot the same action?
  • If verification and casting of the ballot are separate actions, is the user clearly told how to cast the ballot?
  • During the verification process, is the voter required to listen to all selected options before casting the ballot?
  • Is the ballot verified by audio?
  • Does the voter control the pace of the ballot verification output (i.e., moving between each contest or race)?
  • Is the voter given a chance to redo any votes if, while verifying, the selected vote is not as expected?
  • During verification, can the voter make changes to individual contests or races immediately?
  • Are all selections clearly intelligible?
  • Is the ballot confirmed via a print copy?
  • Does the printed copy identify the voter (in machine-readable or human-readable form)?
  • Does the voter get to keep the printed copy?
  • Is the information on the print copy printed in human-readable form?
  • Is the information on the print copy printed in machine-readable form
  • Is the voter clearly instructed how to hold and/or submit the printed copy if necessary to cast the ballot?
  • If the voter gets to keep the printed copy and later objects to the ballot contents, can the voter invalidate or re-cast the vote?
  • Do ballot verification and ballot casting happen on the same machine?

For more information on accessible voting machine manufacturers and to view the manufacturer's video demonstrations, please visit the HAVA training video webpage.