The regulations, practices and facilities for people with disabilities to vote in public elections vary from country to country. For further information see current international voting practices for disabled and elderly people. Many countries are considering the use of electronic voting in one form or another, see countries with e-voting projects.
The needs of people with disabilities should be considered from the outset when designing a new system of voting.
What is e-Voting?
E-voting is short for "electronic voting" and refers to both the electronic means of casting a vote and the electronic means of tabulating votes.
Voting systems such as punched cards and optical scan cards are tabulated using electronic means. There are a wide variety of set-ups for casting a vote electronically, ranging from:
- Voting machines (e.g. touch screen systems or Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines)
- Telephones / Mobile telephones
- SMS text messaging
- Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's)
- Digital TV
Polling place / Supervised e-voting
These terms refer to systems where a voter casts their e-vote inside a polling station or a location supervised by electoral officials. Such systems include the DRE voting machines that record the vote electronically without the use of the Internet or other network. The interface of a DRE machine can be a selection of buttons, a touch screen or a scanner that scans the ballot paper. Some DRE systems also employ a card swipe or cartridge system that must be activated before a vote can be made. Votes are then stored on a memory card, compact disc or other memory device.
Remote e-voting occurs when a voter casts their vote outside a polling station i.e. in the home, office or on the street. This can be done over the Internet using a PC with an Internet-connection to cast the vote and send it to be stored in another remote computer. PDA's, telephones and mobile telephones can also be used to vote remotely.
Auditing of e-voting systems
Just as with manual voting systems, e-voting systems have to be able to be audited. It must be possible to examine the processes used to collect and count the votes and to recount the votes in order to confirm the accuracy of the results.
There are different mechanisms to audit an e-voting system:
- Voter verified audit trail (VVAT)
These systems include paper records of the vote which have been verified by the voter at the time of casting and can be used for a recount at a later date. VVAT can only be used for polling place / supervised e-voting systems since the voter has to be physically present at the place where their vote is actually recorded and printed for control.
- Voter verifiable audit trail
A paper record of the vote is kept, but it is not mandatory that voters check their vote before it is cast. Therefore systems using this mechanism of auditing can be supervised or remote.
- Disclosure of the source code / documentation
Other e-voting systems include the disclosure of the source code and /or documentation of the e-voting system, so that voters and / or representative of political parties and organisations have the opportunity to examine its accuracy.
- In the 2006 USA election more than 16 different types of DRE systems were used
- DREs serve as the voting equipment available for 38% of the USA's registered voters
- There are over 170 million registered voters in the USA
- 34 million disabled Americans are of voting age
- In 2003 it was estimated that a third of the USA's 120,000 polling places were not fully accessible
- In 2001 it was estimated that 69% of the UK's polling places were inaccessible
- 1.4 million voters chose to cast a postal ballot in the 2001 UK General Election
- There are 44.5 milion registered voters in the UK
- It is estimated that there are more than 8.6 million disabled people in the UK
- On average there are 13,000 disabled people in each constituency
Problems encountered by disabled people and the ageing population using e-voting
Blind and Partially Sighted
Those people with low vision have difficulty accessing voting systems due to small print, or the inability to suffciently see the position of text blocks on the screen. For blind people, e-voting systems are often inaccessible due to the nature of the process requiring a sighted guide.
Voting via telephones may cause a problem for the hearing impaired if instructions are not clearly spoken, there is no listen again facility or there is no audio function on the telephone to adjust the speaker volume. People with speech impairments may also have difficulties in using telephones that require speech input and also with voting systems that only offer help through ringing a helpline.
The environment in which the voting system is placed can cause problems for those people with physical impairments. Often the use of small controls, such as push buttons or touch screens, and insufficient reach or strength to use a voting machine will impede the physically impaired when casting a vote using electronic means.
The election laws of most countries establish a criteria that limits the right to vote, by any means, for people with psychiatric impairments. For those people with learning impairments, understanding and following the voting process using a touch screen or DRE may seem daunting. Some cognitively impaired people may find it difficult to remember a PIN number used to authenticate the vote.
The elderly require e-voting systems to contain a combination of auditory, visual and cognitive features to be able to retain their independence in the practice of casting a vote.
Other problems encountered with e-voting
Flexibility and choice
Implementation of e-voting, especially through remote methods, should be based upon the principles of flexibility and choice, ensuring that voters are not restricted to one preferred method but can choose the method of voting that most suits their lifestyle and preferences.
A major security risk is the unauthorised intervention of third parties in the e-voting process. In today's Information Technology climate there is no guarantee that a programme would not be manipulated to allow storage and printing of forms different from ones appearing on the screen.
Other security issues involve ensuring that all voters are allowed to cast their ballot and to ensure that once votes have been cast they are stored and counted correctly. The problem is not only one of making elections secure, it is also one of convincing voters that the system is secure.
Ensure the voter has the opportunity to cast the ballot in secrecy (i.e. without coercion).
Voters expect their votes to be private and for no-one to know how they have cast their votes.
In the context of remote e-voting, only entitled voters are allowed to cast a vote, requiring that every voter be authenticated (e.g. by using a Personal Identification Number (PIN), a Transaction Number (TAN) or a digital signature) and their right to vote verified.
In order to prevent multiple votes being cast or other misuse, a record must be made and checked in order to establish whether the voter has already cast a vote. However, there must be an electronic separation between the vote and the identification of the voter to maintain the secrecy and privacy of the vote.
In the future biometrics may be used to authenticate identity and can be used in place of PIN codes and passwords. Issues occur in populating a database with all the fingerprints (or retina scans etc.) and accurately associating them with the right personal information, such as address and voting ward. There are also privacy issues. The most likely solution to such issues would be to guarantee the database's use only for elections incurring huge costs and reduced utility.
Traditional voting systems were developed to ensure that the principles of voting were met, namely, the freedom to vote, the secrecy of the vote, the non-modification of the intention of the vote and the lack of intimidation during the voting process. E-voting systems must be designed and operated to ensure the reliability and security of the voting operation.
An e-voting system should therefore consider the following minimum requirements:
- To ensure that only people with the right to vote are able to
- To ensure that every vote is counted and each vote is only counted once
- To maintain the voter's right to their opinion without any coercion or undue influence
- To protect the secrecy of the vote at all stages of the process
- To guarantee acccessibility to as many voters as possible, especially with regard to people with disabilities
- To increase voter confidence in the functioning of each system
- The voting area should all be on an accessible level e.g. the ground floor of a building
- Wheelchair access, special ramps and handrails should be provided where necessary
- Polling booths should be at table height, accessible for wheelchair users
- Consider having a polling station in homes for the elderly, at hospitals, or other locations where disabled and elderly people gather
- There are seats provided for those people with mobility impairments
- Polling station staff are given disability awareness training
- There are adequate parking spaces near to the entrance of the polling station
- The path to the polling station is a hard, non-slip surface and is well-lit
- There is adequate lighting inside the polling station
- Signs are in large text and clearly visible
- Voting forms are available in a variety of languages
- There is a large print option to view the forms
- There is a tactile option to view the forms
- Provide a simple layout that resembles the paper forms that voters have been familiar with
- Print size and type is legible
- Candiates names and party logos are clear
- DREs that are to be moved to different locations are lightweight and mobile
- Static touch screen systems and DREs are easily located
- There are minimal stages in the voting process i.e. the number of different screens passed through
- Buttons have tactile markings
- Buttons, or keys (including touch screen buttons) are large and easily identifiable from each other
- Navigation can be through the use of a keyboard or touch screen
- Buttons or keys are operable with one hand
- There is a function to correct mistakes
- Warnings are given for overvoting and undervoting
- All touch screens are debounced to eliminate any double activation due to tremor
- A confirmation screen is available at the end of the vote so all choices can be reviewed
- There is a zoom function
- There is a help function
- The screen can be angled to a variety of positions
- The contrast settings can be adjusted
- The colour settings can be adjusted
- The size of the text can be enlarged
- There is an audio confirmation function that announces the vote being made
- There is an audio description feature that reads out the text on the screen
- The volume and rate of speech can be adjusted by the voter
- For each audio output there is a text alternative
- Appropriate provision is made for connection of personal listening devices
- The system allows alternative custom switches e.g., tactile voting devices or joysticks, to be safely connected
- Full instructions or a demonstration is provided
- Instructions are available in alternative formats
- Print size and typeface is legible
- Instructions are written in simple straightforward language
- Ensure the wide availability of an interactive capacity in digital TV sets
- Ensure the colours, text size and help function in the voting environment are of a maximum size for accessibility
- Appropriate colour combinations should be used
- Page layout is spacious and consistent
- Audio elements should have a matching visual description
- Speech should be clear without any background music or sounds
- Subtitles are provided
- Ensure the wide availability of the touch tone facility in telephones
- Incorporate a text phone element in the voting process
- Instructions are clearly spoken
- Provide a listen again function
- The user can adjust the telephone's speaker volume
- The call must remain anonymous
- There is the option to connect to a human call centre assistant
SMS text messages
- The sent SMS text must remain anonymous
- Sentences are short and use basic language
- The returned typed text is not too long
- The message is broken down into clear components or sections
- Error messages are provided if a mistake is made
- Users receive confirmation that a vote has been received
- Virus protection is provided and easily downloaded onto PCs
- A specialised operating system for voting on home PCs is provided for users
- Navigation can be through the use of a mouse or the keyboard
- Any website must comply with W3C web accessibility guidelines
- There is a demonstration available
- A user is able to access and navigate the voting system by using voice recognition software
- A user is able to access and navigate the voting system using a screen reader
- Audio instructions should be made available
- Electronic authentication should be available in alternative formats (e.g., PIN numbers, smart cards, CD Rom)
- PIN numbers should be in a memorable format
- Smart cards should incorporate coding of user requirements according to EN 1332-4
- Disability Discrimination Act (1995)
- Recommendation Rec (2004) 11 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on legal, operational and technical standards for e-voting (2004)
- Representation of the People Act (2000)
- Human Rights Act (1998)
- Bill of electoral rights for citizens with disabilities (2002)
- IEEE P1583 Draft (2003) Evaluation of voting equipment
- International covenant on civil and political rights
- Scope (2002) Disability access standards for the electoral modernisation projects - access standards for e-voting and e-counting technology. Version 1. London: Scope.
- Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities (2002)
- Web content accessibility guidelines 1.0 (1999)
- Help America Vote Act (2002)
- American Foundation for the Blind (n.d.) Help America vote act (HAVA). [accessed 14/08/07].
- Burton, D. & Uslan, M. (2002) Cast a vote by yourself: a review of accessible voting machines. AFB AccessWorld [online], 3(6). [accessed 14/08/07].
- California Secretary of State (2004) Know your rights. [13/07/07].
- California Secretary of State (2004) Polling place checklist for Primary and General elections. PDF [accessed 13/07/07].
- Department for Communities and Local Government (2005) Public attitudes towards the implementation of electronic voting. London: Department for Communities and Local Government.
- Electoral Commission (2003) Equal access to democracy: report and recommendations. London: The Electoral Commission.
- Electoral Commission (2004) Equal access to electoral procedures: good practice guidance. London: The Electoral Commission.
- Fischer, Eric A. (2003) RL32139 Election reform and electronic voting systems (DREs): analysis of security issues. [accessed 13/07/07].
- Lausen, M. (2007) Design for democracy: ballot and election design. Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.
- National Institute of Standards & Technology (n.d.) Improving U.S. voting systems. [accessed 14/08/07].
- Watt, B., (2002). Implementing electronic voting in the UK: the legal issues. London: The Department of Communities and Local Government.
The information contained in this section was taken from the following sources:
- Accessibility.co.au (2003) Disabled US voters have their say. [accessed 22/06/07].
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (2007) Auditing of e-voting systems. [accessed 21/06/07].
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (2007) Focus on elections and disability. [accessed 21/06/07].
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (2007) What is "e-voting"? [accessed 21/06/07].
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (2006) Requirements for e-voting. [accessed 21/06/07].
- Daone, L., Morris, G. & Scott, R. (2002) Polls apart: developing inclusive e-democracy: an evaluation of the accessibility of the May 2003 electoral pilot voting systems. London: Scope.
- Kitcat, Jason (2003) e-Voting. [accessed 24/07/07].
- Local Government Association (2002) The implementation of electronic voting in the UK. London: LGA Publications.
- Local Government Association (2002) The implementation of electronic voting in the UK: research summary. London: LGA Publications.
- National Task Force on Elections Accessibility (1999) Voting: a constitutional right for all citizens. National Organisation on Disability.
- Scope (2002) Disability access standards for the electoral modernisation projects - access standards for e-voting and e-counting technology. Version 1. London: Scope.
- Strickland, J. & Bonsor, K. (2007) How e-voting works. [accessed 22/06/07].
- Vanderheiden, G. C. (2004) Using extended and enhanced usability (EEU) to provide access to mainstream electronic voting machines. Information Technology and Disabilities [online], 10(2). [accessed 21/06/07].
The author would like to thank W. Quesenbery for her additional comments and ideas.