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Accessible Voting Town Hall Meeting Minutes

Subject: Town Hall Meeting; The National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey Sponsored a Town Hall Meeting about Accessible vote via mail with:

  • Charlie Munford and Aaron Wilson, VotingWorks
  • Mary Ciccone, Director of Policy/CAP & PAVA Coordinator, Disability Rights New Jersey
  • Lou Ann Blake, Executive Director, Blindness Initiatives NFB

The meeting was held to clarify how the voting by mail procedures in the July primary election will work for all New Jerseyans.

Date/Time: Monday, June 22, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. The meeting started promptly at 11:00 a.m.
Media: Zoom
Host: Joe Ruffalo, President of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey (NFBNJ)
Co-host and moderator: Linda Melendez, 1st Vice President, NFBNJ
Attendees: Approximately 25 members, friends, and assistive technology specialists
Note: This call was recorded and will be available for your listening pleasure on www.nfb.org

Summary:

President Ruffalo thanked everyone for being on the call and emphasized how essential voting rights are to all Americans, President Ruffalo, an Army Veteran, said “we fought wars for this right”. The purpose of this meeting is to clarify how accessible voting for the primary election will be handled in New Jersey.

Governor Murphy’s May 15, 2020 Executive Order No. 144 requires the County Clerk to send all Unaffiliated and Inactive Democratic and Republican registered voters a Vote-by-Mail Ballot application for the upcoming July 7, 2020 Primary Election. This order was issued as a result of the coronarvirus pandemic. (More information about the Governor’s Order will be attached to the end of these minutes).

Meeting Details:

Charlie Munford represented Sales and Outreach for the non-profit vendor VotingWorks has worked to assure an accessible vote by mail product is available to assist disabled people all across America. His colleague Aaron Wilson is a technical specialist who built a product seven years ago to assist in this accessible voting effort. Their product provides a secure portal for voters with disabilities to complete a private ballot from their own electronic equipment with the necessary accessibility features they require. The voter then prints the ballot and mails it in.

Mary Ciccone from Disability Rights of New Jersey has been working with the Division of Elections to protect the voting rights of disabled people for many years. New Jersey has made its “No excuse to vote” ballot a paper ballot and Mary wants to make it accessible and thus reached out to the NFBNJ to discuss accessibility needs of the blind. The Governor allowed municipal elections in May to include a vote by mail option and Mary and her staff are supporting efforts to make all elections in New Jersey accessible to disabled individuals.

President Ruffalo introduced NFBNJ member Tracy Carcione and called her the “Danielle Boone” of accessible voting for New Jersey Blind. Back in May, Tracy contacted her County Board of Elections (Bergen) to figure out how to enable her to vote from home in an accessible manner. The Board of Elections sent her an email that included a link and a pin that allowed her to access a voting ballot that was very clear for her to read and understand. She had the options to “Print” or send it directly to the “Board of Elections”. Since Tracy does not have a printer she opted to submit her ballot electronically. She also copied her ballot onto a thumb drive to take it to a UPS store for printing a paper copy in the event this was needed. She did not need to print her ballot and mail it in and is ready to do so if this is required for the November elections.

Charlie Munford commented that—“this is how easy accessible voting should be.” The process starts with contacting your local Board of Elections to get access to a secure website and pin that allows you to download software to your computer (enables all your accessibility features) and you complete your ballot. This should be offered to all voters. This is the goal of VotingWorks. “We are like a tech start up company” we want to hear about your problems so we can work across the country to help solve them. Charlie commented that the process Tracy described was like “The Democracy Live System” that is no longer available and has been replaced with a system whose software is downloaded directly to your computer however, it does require a printed ballot to be mailed in—as this is a current requirement of the law.

Lou Ann Blake is knowledgeable about the VotingWorks software and discussed the history of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) which only applies to in-person voting. She is advocating for electronic voting for the blind by relying on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) . She contends that absentee ballots have been around a long time to enable military personnel to vote electronically.

President Ruffalo commented that all voting sites in New Jersey will be open on July 7 and encouraged all blind members to familiarize themselves with the ballot. He reminded those who are not registered to a party that they must reach out to their County Board of Elections to have an absentee ballot sent to them if they are unable to go personally to their polling location.

Linda Melendez thanked President Ruffalo, Mary, Tracy, Lou Ann, Charlie, and Aaron for their participation and opened the floor for Questions and Answers:

Q: Some households have received mail in ballots for people who have moved and/or died. What is to prevent someone from using these.

A: Mary Ciccone said that for people who have moved—just return the ballot. If a family member died call the Board of Elections and have them taken off the roll (you will need a death certificate to do this). Voting fraud by mail is essentially non-existent (i.e. 0 .001% incident) and the states of Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have been doing this for years without problems. Presently, New Jersey is not planning to do a full vote by mail for the November elections so if you want this option you need to reach out to your County Clerk, and it may necessitate writing letters to the Board of Elections. Mary said anyone needing additional assistance please reach out to her at:
mciccone@drnj.org
1 800 922 7233

Curtis Chong now lives in Colorado and has been involved in assistive technology for the blind for many years. He shared that in the last three elections he was able to use an accessible voting system by mail.

Q: A concern was expressed that the vote by mail system in New Jersey requires the printing and mailing of a paper ballot. Many people don’t have printers and do not know how to get their ballot printed. We need a way to submit votes without the requirement of a printed ballot. In November elections will blind voters have a way to “test the system” to assure it is accessible to them?

A: Mary Ciccone said that usually the Board of Elections sends out a sample ballot however, this was not done in the primary. Mary said the state was sued for accepting electronic returns and that is why they want a printed ballot. There has been no discussion about “testing the system” and we need to advocate for this.

Q: The vote by mail process with the two envelopes is cumbersome and confusing for the blind what happens if we make a mistake—will our vote still be counted?

A: Mary Ciccone emphasized the importance of “following the rules” when returning your primary printed ballot. Seek help if you need it.
Comment: If the blind needs to spend so much time and in the end must rely on the help of a sighted person it sounds like it will be easier to just vote in person.

Q: Does every vote get counted if the winner is already declared overwhelmingly?

A: Yes, every vote is counted. They cannot discount a mailed in ballot. Biggest issue is with signature matches when the mail in vote does not match your registration. Votes are no longer being discounted for this reason. An effort is being made to contact the voter to understand the reason for the discrepancy in signatures.

Q: Has VotingWorks tested their accessible voting software on all web browsers?

A: Aaron Wilson said yes. We have tested it on all the web platforms including phones with the exception of legacy browsers like Internet Explorer.

Q: If we need to download our ballot to a thumb drive will there be instructions for this?

A: This is not currently available and is a good suggestion.

Q: Asked for clarification of the accessible vote by mail process and if more than one ballot could be put into an envelope and mailed. Commented that we need to get to a place where there is real accessible voting.

A: All ballots need to me mailed individually. The comment is correct.

Q: If you use a computer to mark your ballot how does electronic signatures work?

A: Electronic signatures are not required for July primaries. All vote by mail ballots include a self-addressed and stamped envelope for mailing.

President Ruffalo thanked everyone on the call and special thanks to our guests.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:04 p.m.

Minutes respectfully submitted by Ellen Sullivan, Affiliate Secretary, NFBNJ
Reviewed by Joe Ruffalo, President and Linda Melendez, First Vice President, NFBNJ

From the Governor’s Office:

In light of the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 144 on May 15, 2020 which requires the County Clerk to send all Unaffiliated and Inactive Democratic and Republican registered voters a Vote-by-Mail Ballot application for the upcoming July 7, 2020 Primary Election. You will receive an application because you are a registered Unaffiliated voter or a voter with an Inactive status that is entitled to vote in the July 7, 2020 Primary Election.

Because New Jersey is a closed Primary Election state, in order to receive a ballot, an Unaffiliated voter must choose to be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican party to receive that Party’s Vote by Mail Ballot. You may return to an Unaffiliated status following the Primary Election by completing and returning a Party Declaration Form to your County Commissioner of Registration.

A voter may apply for a Mail-In Ballot by mail up to 7 days prior to the election. He or she may also apply in person to the County Clerk prior to 8 P.M. the day of the election.

To contact your county Commissioner of Voting:
https://www.state.nj.us/state/elections/primary-election-070720.shtml

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