May 1st: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Electronic Voting, be it on electronic machines used in polling stations or be it distant Internet voting from a personal computer, is often considered to be a useful tool for disabled people because it might ease vote casting. At the same time, and somewhat more paradoxically, there are concerns about electronic voting user-friendliness with respect to the needs of non-disabled people. Actually both points of view are necessary and they underline the fact that accessibility and usability must be key issues to be considered when developing a voting solution.
Today I would like to attract your attention to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted on December 13th 2006 and entered into force on May 3rd 2008. Among many other issues, article 29 addresses the question of how disabled people may achieve a full participation in political and public life. As you see below, some paragraphs directly refer to the ways and means of casting a vote (my underlining):
“Article 29 / Participation in political and public life
States Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake to:
(a) Ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected, inter alia, by:
(i) Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use;
(ii) Protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation, and to stand for elections, to effectively hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government, facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate;
(iii) Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors and to this end, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice“
The Convention recognizes both the right to vote by secret ballot and the right to be assisted in voting by a person of own choice. But is it possible to cast a secret ballot if one is assisted by another person? Obviously not. The Convention seems to accept that many cases would need such an assistance, but it also recalls that the final goal still consists in having the possibility of casting a secret ballot by one’s own means and without assistance.
Electronic voting might become extremely useful, but its developers should be aware of the needs of disabled people. It is not so easy to meet such requirements while at the same time (and on the same system/machine) having to comply with other conditions that e-voting solutions must also fulfill such as verifiability, efficiency, speed and even the usability for non disabled people. In particular, internet voting may become extremely useful at least for some kind of disabilities, but it also has to address its own challenges.
Let’s stop here for the time being. I recommend you two websites whose solutions will be discussed in subsequent posts:
a) TopVoter: A Slovenian company providing “voting machines for disabled people” http://topvoter.com
b) PrimeIII: A solution provided by the Human Centered Computer Lab / Clemson University / http://www.primevotingsystem.org/