Blind Woman Files Formal Voting Complaint

By: Bonney Bowman Email
By: Bonney Bowman Email

A blind Lancaster County woman files a formal complaint, saying her rights were violated at the polls.

That's because although early voting started last week, the county's Automark machine was only available starting Tuesday.

The Automark machine allows blind and deaf residents to vote on their own.

The situation concerns Nebraskans for Civic Reform Executive Director Adam Morfeld, who says 'It's required by federal law that they have the ability to do that and that's why federal law provided funding for these machines to be ready at every polling location when early voting commences on election day."

Morfeld is working with Fatos Floyd, the blind woman who wasn't able to vote because the Automark machine wasn't ready.

They filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State's office and Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively, who says the deadline to finalize the ballot and get that information to the company which programs the Automark did not give them enough time to have it ready.

Morfeld says, "You wouldn't want somebody looking over your shoulder while you're voting and knowing exactly what issues you're voting for and who you're voting for so people with disabilities are just like any other citizen and the have the right to privately vote and do so independently."

The Secretary of State's office will hold a public hearing about the issue and from there decide how to solve the problem.

Morfeld says it will most likely take legislation.

Commissioner Shively issued this statement about the issue: “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.

I welcome the complaint filed by Ms. Floyd. I am certain the formal hearing will outline the challenges all Nebraska Election Officials are facing in meeting very specific deadlines outlined in both federal and state law. Hopefully the findings of the formal hearing will be a push for changes in state law to assist Election Officials in meeting these deadlines. Earlier today my office received the programming for the Automark and it is now available for early voters in our office.”

Secretary of State John Gale issued this statement: I received a formal complaint alleging potential voter violations under federal law. The complaint arises under HAVA (Help America Vote Act) and was filed by Ms. Fatol Floyd. She complained that she contacted the Lancaster County Election Commissioner's Office on October 3, 2012 about bringing several visually impaired people to vote early in that office by using the AutoMARK equipment. AutoMARK is ballot-marking equipment which allows a person with physical disabilities or visual impairment to cast a private paper ballot. Ms. Floyd said she was informed that equipment was not available on that date.

Under the HAVA act of 2002, a complaint procedure is provided by the Secretary of State. The Nebraska Secretary of State's Office has had a formal administrative complaint procedure since January 2004, as required by federal law. A description of that procedure can be found on the Secretary of State website. This is the first complaint received under that law in Nebraska. A complaint is filed with my office and must set forth certain factual allegations. My office is entitled to respond based on the complaint and upon our own investigation. At this point, we are reviewing the complaint filed by Mrs. Floyd and are determining the steps that will take place from this point to ensure the issue is properly resolved.

We work closely with our county election officials to comply with all state and federal laws. The company contracted to provide printed ballots for most of our counties is Elections System & Software, an international elections systems company with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Elections System & Software provides printed ballots for our military and overseas citizens; and for use during early voting as well as Election Day. This company codes the AutoMARK equipment for use statewide. There are a variety of state and federal laws that all come to bear on deadlines for ballots and for ensuring the rights of the disabled and visually impaired voters.
I deeply regret that a visually impaired citizen had a disappointing experience. We have worked hard over eight years to ensure that the American Disabilities Act has been complied with at all levels. At the same time, we have great respect for our county election officials in Nebraska, and their efforts to ensure that all registered citizens have the right to cast a ballot under the law and have their ballot counted. Dave Shively, our Lancaster County Election Commissioner, has been a state leader in his expertise and experience in establishing high standards for all voters.

We will proceed as provided under the complaint procedures outlined under HAVA to do a thorough investigation, to provide fairness and due process to our procedures, and to craft written findings and find a remedy if one is needed to address Ms. Floyd's complaint.

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