Can Oregon’s Alternate Form Ballot Solve the Holt Dilemma?

Oregon’s Alternative Ballot, provided to citizens with disabilities and to UOCAVA voters, may provide an avenue around a roadblock that is holding up voting systems reform in DC.

Today’s story on the NY Times, the second in two days by Christopher Drew, broadens the discussion of potential delays in voting system reform.

One of the great advancements included in HAVA was a guarantee that disabled voters have full and fair access to the ballot. Today’s story points out that additional protections that have been added in the Holt bill, meant to guarantee the integrity of the ballot, may further imperil reform. In many jurisdictions, citizens with mobility problems may fill out a ballot, but have a poll worker insert it into the reader. Some have argued for even grater protections, requiring states to assure a completely independent voting experience, one that does not require any assistance. This may slow the move away from DREs and toward optical systems.

Consider a technological solution developed in the State of Oregon–the alternate ballot format–which was developed as a means to provide a cost effective and private balloting method for those citizens who lack fine motor skills necessary to fill out the ballot or who otherwise cannot fill out the ballot without assistance. John Lindback of the Oregon State Elections Office described the technology at the recent NASS meeting.

Under this system, voters receive the alternate form ballot (AFB). The AFB is produced at the state capitol, and is essentially an HTML form of the ballot that uses radio buttons so that voters make selections, works with assistive technology that many disabled citizens already have on their computer, and provides a secure and private way of filling out the ballot.

Voters need a computer, appropriate assistive technology, a web browser, and a printer, but other than these items, the voter has complete control over the balloting process. (If voters do not have the technology at home, these are made available at county elections offices. Each county also has a “traveling” laptop.)

In addition, Oregon is using the same technology to deliver UOCAVA ballots and to provide ballots to citizens who arrive at the wrong elections office.

I think Oregon is out front on developing this technology because they have been forced to, given the by-mail, “voting at home” system. It’s a relatively cheap and “low tech” solution., And, it seems to me, however, that this same technology can be used anywhere else in the country as a way to provide disabled citizens a private, secure, and independent voting experience.