In this episode, we examine the experience of one Utahn who needed accommodations for voting. We also discuss pros and cons of vote by mail, and finish with a look at current legal protections and a bill that would make life easier for people who have difficulty making a consistent signature.
Aaron Timm, a Blind Utah voter, described what it was like to vote using an accessible voting machine, versus using vote by mail.
Timm used a machine before and during the 2016 election. "The machine [was ] in a separate room, and there [was] one guy that has a key to let you in, and it's sort of awkward, because you're standing there with with some guy. It is a perfectly nice fellow, you know, but it's, it's awkward. ... You really feel very 'othered.'
"...And then of course, there's a pressure if you're like me, and you're like a people pleaser, and you're worried about, you know, taking up somebody else's time, like you feel kind of rushed, or at least I did."
She voted early in 2016, but her husband, who has a different disability but who also needed an accessible machine, went to vote on election day. "And we're standing in line, and a couple of other people wanted to use the accessible voting machine as well. And there was a poll volunteer or worker, I'm not sure which, that was saying, 'Oh, we don't have that.' And I was like, "Oh, no, no, no, no, they do.'"
"...And right up to my husband getting up to the front of the line, there were people trying to talk him out of using the accessible machine, saying, oh, wouldn't you rather just do this? Or there's other ways we can help you. And he was insistent."
She also spoke about vote by mail, which worked for her if she used a magnifier. "It's accessible enough for me, but I definitely was aware and cognizant of how inaccessible it was for other people. People with more profound sight loss than myself and people who are in politically divided households...
"As I was filling this out was like, man, my husband knows he can trust me to, to put his vote down the way he wants. And I feel the same way. But there are people who obviously don't have that."
Also in this episode: An interview with Sheri Newton of the Disability Law Center about voting options for Utahns who need accommodations.
We also spoke with Nate Crippes of the Disability Law Center about current legal protections for Utahn voters with disabilities.
Text for House Bill 56 (Voter Accessibility Amendments)
Disability Voting Rights from the Disability Law Center website
Welcome to Accessible times the UA TP podcast. We talk about the technology that helps people be independent and how it changes lives. I'm JoLynne Lyon. In this episode, we will look at accessible voting, what's available in Utah, what's not and what the barriers are. We'll get started with an interview with Aaron Tim. Both she and her husband have needed voting accommodations, and we really appreciate her sharing her experiences with us.Aaron Timm:
I've my experience with accessible voting machines really didn't happen until just a couple few years ago, honestly.JoLynne Lyon:
So what did you do before the accessible machines?Aaron Timm:
Well, um, the very first time I voted, which was in 2000, they had the little felt markers. And I just kind of toughed my way through it. I didn't I didn't even think to bring a magnifier I don't know why. Well, I'd never voted before. So I didn't know what to expect. And I remember that this was in California, a woman yelled at me and said, nobody can help you. And I was like, I didn't even ask. So I just, I just kind of toughed my way through it. You know, if I squint, I can sometimes read stuff. So I was like, alright, I'll just tough it out.JoLynne Lyon:
I'm interested to see what California law is. Because I know you can have people help you in Utah. So that's really interesting that you heard that.Aaron Timm:
Yeah, I think she had just, it was a really small community. And I'm guessing she hadn't had much experience with blind people. She just saw me walking in. And I was like, you know, this, this might be a problem.JoLynne Lyon:
Yeah, I just used a handheld magnifier. Um, you know, and honestly, sometimes I still do that with the male and balance and stuff. But yeah, you just, you lknow, make it work.JoLynne Lyon:
When was your first use of an accessible voting machine then?Aaron Timm:
Probably a midterm election before 2016. So maybe 2014. I think, I believe it was a midterm election. And, and I had, you know, been turned on to the idea of the accessible voting machines, because of my involvement with the National Federation of the Blind. They had talked a lot about accessible voting. And so I'm like, well, let's just go see how it how it goes. Let's try and use this machine and see, see what what's what, because they wanted feedback from people, you know, how was your experience? So I'm like, Alright, let's go try it out. And it was weird. You know, they they have the machine, it was the exact same experience in 2016, actually. The machine's in a separate room, and there's one guy that has a key to let you in, and it's sort of awkward, because you're standing there with with some guy you know, it is perfectly nice fellow, you know, but, but it's, it's awkward. It's a bit like, like elementary school, you know, when you're pulled out of class to like, oh, yeah, you know, yeah, just y'all hear some special blind stuff. Let's see, you know, so you really feel very othered.Unknown:
Well, the first time he was in the room, I guess, to make sure I the machine worked okay, and everything. So yeah, it did feel a bit awkward. And, you know, I didn't feel like he was watching me vote, but it did feel a bit like, oh, man, you know, it's, it's awkward. It's like, you know, somebody with you in a changing room or something. It's, it felt inappropriate. Yeah. You know, cuz this is supposed to be, you know, a very private thing. And even when you vote, like in the little kiosks, where you're with a bunch of other people, it's, you know, you're still you have that measure of privacy, you're in your own little booth. And you're, you know, with yourself. And then of course, there's a pressure if you're like me, and you're like a people pleaser, and you're worried about, you know, taking up somebody else's time, like you feel kind of rushed, or at least I did, I was like, oh, man, I don't want to take all day. Or at least I felt a little bit of pressure, like, Okay, I better just make this quick and not have any problems. Because I didn't want to disrupt you know, somebody else's day.JoLynne Lyon:
And that was, that was your first experience with the machine. You said 2016 was very much the same. So we're going to go a little bit out of order here. One of the last questions I usually ask in an interview, is if there's anything they would like to add, in this time era did add something that belongs really with a discussion of the 2016 election. So I'm just going to move it here so that it fits in with the chronological order of this interview, for example,Aaron Timm:
in 2016, I voted early, I went, I use the machine, you know, there was the guy with the key to the, to the special room. I used it. And then I told my husband, I said, Look, this is a super, super important election. He wanted to vote in person, I don't remember if there was the mail-in option back then. So I apologize for that. But he wanted to be there on the day, it was very important to him. And so as we're standing in a super, super long line, I was like, Well, you know what, you should use the accessible voting machine because they need to know what's there, they need to know that people people need it, you know, because I was telling the stories about in some counties in Utah, they would say, 'Oh, that machine is broken,' or they didn't have the proper, you know, it wasn't hooked up properly, and things like that. Other blind people had had that experience. And so he's like, Okay, I'm gonna ask to use this machine. And we're standing in line, and a couple of other people wanted to use the accessible voting machine as well. And there was a poll volunteer or worker, I'm not sure which, that was saying, Oh, we don't have that. And I was like, oh, no, no, no, no, they do. So what I did was I had already voted. So I'm like, Okay, I'm gonna step out of line. I'm gonna, pun intended, I guess, I'm gonna step out of out of line, and I'm gonna, and I'm gonna tell these people about the machine. But you know, you're still in line for your thing, whatever. And so I started walking up and down. And every time I heard somebody asked that, or I heard her say, you know, we only have the print ballots, or bla bla bla, I would say, No, they don't, they have an accessible machine, you have the right to use it, stay in line, you don't have to disclose your disability, just tell them you want to use this machine. It exists. I used it. And I had a poll volunteer, trying to like, shut me up. And she's like, she's like, You need to stop. You don't work here. You're not, you know? And I'm like, No, I don't. But I'm a voter. And there are people in this line who want to use this machine, and it's here, and they have every right to use it. My husband is waiting to use it. And I almost got kicked out of the building. Because she was she was coming up to me, and she's like, just get in line. And just like, you know, be quiet. And I'm like, No, I'm not. This election is super, super important. Look at all these people. I mean, we were in line for like three hours, you know. And I was like, look at all these people, you cannot deny them the right to vote the way they want to, and the way they feel comfortable. And right up to my husband getting up to the front of the line, there were people trying to talk him out of using the accessible machine, saying, oh, wouldn't you rather just do this? Or there's other ways we can help you. And he was insistent.JoLynne Lyon:
I'm just curious, I know what it was, like four years ago? What did they think people should do instead of use that machine?Aaron Timm:
I think there were some... Well, it depended on the worker, like some people were, were, were saying that, you know, you have to fill out your ballot, you know, so their option was to to hand you your ballot. And if you needed help, I guess you would have to have a family member with you or something, you know, because they really didn't have much of an option. Some of them, then the nicer ones, as you got closer to the actual room where people were filling out the ballots, were like, well, we could help you. And I'm like, Yeah, but that's not, I mean, the the machine itself has privacy issues already, you know, the way it the way it prints out a ballot, the ballot is different, it goes to a different place, that sort of thing. So it's already it's already a bit weird to cast a ballot with the accessible machine because, you know it's not completely private. you know, or, you know, um, but at least it's better than having somebody just, you know, trusting somebody, especially a stranger, you know, you're going to you're going to trust them with your vote. That's, that's not a reasonable accommodation. And that's not even close to being the same thing.JoLynne Lyon:
How was 2020?Aaron Timm:
2020 we did them my husband and I did the mail in ballots. I filled out both of our ballots for us. Because there was just no way no way we were going to go outside like, I no, that was not happening.JoLynne Lyon:
Did you feel like the the mail in ballot was accessible?Aaron Timm:
It's accessible enough for me, but I definitely was aware and cognizant of how inaccessible it was for other people, you know, people with more profound sight loss than myself and people who are in politically divided households, you know? B ecause, you know, it's 2016 was a very important election 2020 Also, equally, you know, there, it's, it felt so dramatic. I just, as I was filling this out was like, man, you know, my husband knows he can trust me to, to put his vote down the way he wants. And I feel the same way. But there are people who obviously don't have that, you know. And so it made me aware of, of them and of that. And it was interesting, because he, he asked me for information, he was like, Okay, I don't know much about this proposition. So I looked it up on my phone, and I read it to him. And I was like, Okay, so now you have an understanding of that. And we actually voted differently on a couple of things that it was, you know, it was pretty interesting. But um,JoLynne Lyon:
And that is actually an interesting thing with mail in ballots. It almost feels more like a take home test, you know, yeah. You don't have to have all the answers at your fingertips, right when?Aaron Timm:
Yeah, exactly. And that's one of the advantages of it is, you know, for working people, sometimes it's hard to research the issues or research the candidates. And so if you have this, this open book, take home exam, you can take your time to really research it and talk about it. And that's what my husband and I did in 2020. That's what was different is we had the time to just sit and talk things out, you know? Yeah, so it made. I you know, I can't speak for him, but it made me feel more confident in the choices I made. Yes, it was kind of cool.JoLynne Lyon:
And now, here's a word from the Utah Assistive Technology Program.Dan O'Crowley, Logan UATP Coordinator:
Utahns, you can get a loan for assistive technology devices and pay less interest, if you apply for it through the Utah Assistive Technology program. We've partnered with Zions Bank to offer reduced interest loans on those devices that keep you independent, including adapted vans, Hearing aids, all modifications, and so much more. Visit the Utah Assistive Technology Program website to apply.JoLynne Lyon:
Let's get back to the conversation. So we're going to shift to another source. Now, I'll let her tell you what she does.Sheri Newton:
I'm Sheri Newton, I'm the voting Access Program Coordinator at the Disability Law Center. We work with election officials to ensure that voting is accessible for people with disabilities. And we also reach out to individuals with disabilities across the state to help them get involved in the electoral process. So that can mean educating them about their voting rights, helping them with voter registration. And if they run into a problem with voting, even helping them with the complaint process.JoLynne Lyon:
I know that in Utah, it is legal to ask for help if you're not able to fill out your ballot independently. But I also know that, for example, I am not able to fill out my husband's ballot. So how do we make sure that it's done legally, if you are getting help,Sheri Newton:
You just want to make sure that the person that's assisting does not influence the end of the voters vote at all. So you're really just marking about for them not making decisions for them. So I guess technically, you could fill out the ballot for your husband if he told you how to market. And at the end, he would need to be the one that signs the affidavit on the ballot envelope. So that's kind of where people get in trouble is we've heard there's not a lot of that that happens. But I've been told by election officials that yes, so usually is, you know, those missionary moms or moms of college students where they just filled out and sign up for them. And that's where, where it really crosses the line into breaking the law.JoLynne Lyon:
Great. And so that signature then is what's used to verify the ballot if I'm understanding correctly.Sheri Newton:
Yeah, the signature is what verifies your identification. Your signature becomes that ID of sorts. And to verify that it's really you that's completed the ballot.JoLynne Lyon:
And how do they verify that signature, then?Sheri Newton:
They match it against signatures that they have I'm file, and they have signatures on file, because you may have registered to vote with the, you know, voter registration form. Or if you have your signature at the driver's license division, then the state has that copy of it. So they have an electronic electronic copy of your signature. And then every time you vote, they collect your signature again. So they end up with quite a few signatures over time that they can compare the new signature to.JoLynne Lyon:
Great. So if someone does not have, and actually, I know several people who do not have a consistent signature, for example, if they cannot see very well, maybe their signature isn't going to look the same every time. So what happens in those cases,Sheri Newton:
exactly, and other people have degenerative conditions. So in that situation, there's a few things that you can do, to be able to vote and for them to be able to verify that it's really you that's voting. So of course, we've had those voting machines is the way we think of them. I mean, our new voting machines are really ballot marking devices that are available at a vote center, and every county has a vote center available. So you can go in, show 'em your ID and use that ballot marking device, which has quite a few accessibility features. But you know, most everyone else is voting from home these days. So if you don't want to go to a vote center, or it's difficult for you to get there, then you can vote from home on your ballot, getting assistance if you like. And if you're not able to sign your name, you can just make a mark, if that mark is consistent. If you make an X or whatever your consistent mark is that you make you can do that. But also, if you know that you're just not going to be able to sign your name consistently, you can always reach out to the county clerk who administers the elections, and let them know the situation. And they can provide an accommodation for you that will basically be another way of verifying your identification.JoLynne Lyon:
You may have noticed a recurring theme here. Vote by Mail increases voting accessibility for some, but not everyone. And it has made the small number of voting centers a real issue for people with disabilities. For example, Utah's second largest county, Tooele, is nearly 7000 square miles. In 2021. It had two locations where people with disabilities could go to use an accessible machine.Nate Crippes:
I think the big concern right now is is when we talk about the idea of accessible at home options. There's this big kind of push pull between, you know, accessible voting and election security.JoLynne Lyon:
This is Nate Crippes, Public Affairs supervising attorney at the Disability Law Center.Nate Crippes:
I mean, I think other states have done it. So I think obviously, there are ways to do it for voters with disabilities. Currently, there is a way we're a voter, because overseas voters and voters with disabilities can receive a ballot electronically, but then they still have to print it and mark it. And so what we're looking at are how can we do you know, electronic marking and sending? And, you know, I appreciate that there are probably legitimate concerns with election security. And I'm certainly not an expert in that, that field. But I think there has to be a balance between that and, you know, ensuring that all voters can have the ability to vote privately and independently. And so I think that's probably the the thing we're hearing most is how do we strike that balance? And I think we're hopeful that there can be a study looking at what options exist, what other states are doing, and then hopefully, you know, develop something in Utah in future elections to have a more accessible process.JoLynne Lyon:
At the time I put this podcast together, we weren't aware of any bills in the 2022 Utah legislative session regarding accessible voting at home. But we can tell you about House Bill 56, sponsored by Matthew Gwynn, a Republican Representative from far west.Sheri Newton:
Well, we're pretty excited about House Bill 56 that's up for the legislative session this year. The Disability Law Center has been working with the county clerk's association to kind of, we collaboratively been thinking about how to accommodate those who signature doesn't match your after year. In the past when your signature didn't match, then the county clerk would reach out to the voter and and you know, ask them to go through an affidavit process, which might mean coming into the county clerk's office and signing a form that says yes, this ballot's really my ballot. Well, we certainly hate to see people subjected to that, you know, one election after another, that isn't fair. And so we've been working with the clerk's to come up with a reasonable accommodation. And what is proposed in this bill, is that that affidavit, when it gets sent out, or when someone's asked him to sign it, includes a section where can check a box that says, you know, essentially, I'm an individual with a disability whose disability impacts my ability to sign my name consistently. And this is how you can reach out to me to arrange an accommodation, and you provide your contact information, and then that is a way to kind of spur the accommodation process. And I believe, you know, the state will have to come up with some rules about how to deal with that, that's in the bill that the state elections office will come up with some rules, but really looking at maybe even putting a tag on the voter's voter registration record, that would note that the person cannot sign consistently, and, you know, kind of initiate that accommodation every election.JoLynne Lyon:
And finally, here are some current legal protections for Utah voters with disabilities.Nate:
You know, obviously, the ADA Title Two, you know, says voters with disabilities need to have equal access to those, you know, who, as their non disabled peers. And then there's Title Three of the Help America Vote Act, which basically says that opportunities provided by, you know, election officials, to people with disabilities should be accessible in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence as for other voters. And so you know, and then there's there's Utah law protections. So essentially, you know, a voter with disabilities also can, is able to get assistance if they would like it, if they request it, they just can't use their employer, an agent of the employer, someone from their union, or the candidate I think that exists also is a federal and federal protections. Maybe I think it's in the Voting Rights Act, that a voter can also get help from someone of their choosing.JoLynne Lyon:
Thank you for listening to Accessible Times: The UATP podcast, brought to you by the Utah Assistive Technology Program. We are part of the Institute for Disability research, policy and practice at Utah State University.