Ballot Marking Devices – Making Voting Accessible
November 2, 2023
Posted by Able News
By Jeremy Morak
As Election Day approaches, millions of New Yorkers have already cast their ballot or are planning to vote on Nov. 7. If you’ve ever felt frustrated or discouraged trying to vote on a paper ballot that is too difficult to read, you are not alone.
However, you can ease this stressful situation by using a device that has been at your polling center for years. Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) are accessible machines that can enlarge your ballot’s font size or audibly read out every word you can listen to through headphones.
These machines are touch screens with optional buttons on the side, helping users vote for their candidates in every race on a particular ballot. The machines are easy to use and offer a secure and independent voting experience for anyone who is blind, visually impaired or unable to read and mark a paper ballot on their own.
Dorothy Delayo, a poll worker for the New York City Board of Elections with more than thirty years of experience, has been working diligently to inform NYC voters about many resources available to ensure their right to vote is never infringed.
This past September, Delayo helped coordinate a special hands-on demonstration of BMDs at Lighthouse Guild, a nonprofit organization that offers services, programs and a safe community for people who are blind and visually impaired.
This unique opportunity allowed participants to learn about ballot marking devices and try them out with mock ballots, simulating the experience on Election Day.
Delayo, a volunteer with Lighthouse Guild for the past two years, worked closely with Lighthouse Guild staff and Ariel Merkel, a coordinator in the Americans with Disabilities Act Executive Office at the NYC Board of Elections, to provide information about accessible resources and answer questions from NYC voters living with vision loss.
Delayo is a staunch advocate for voters with disabilities and has essential tips to help individuals who need assistance when they vote.
Delayo suggests voters with disabilities ask to use a BMD as soon as they arrive. There is at least one functioning BMD at every NYC polling site, and everyone has the right to ask to use it for any reason. As soon as the voter signs in, they should let the poll worker know that they would like vote using a BMD. Each voter has the right to get assistance and must be aided by two poll workers – one from each party – one Democrat and one Republican.
If a voter is told that the BMDs are not working, they should ask to speak with the Poll Site Coordinator.
Every poll center should have two BMDs available and one must always be functional.
The voter should be sure you speak with the Poll Site Coordinator and let them know if the machine is not working properly.
They are required to reach out to the Board of Elections and have a replacement device delivered as soon as possible.
Voters should not be intimidated if their polling center appears crowded or hectic. They are the voter’s best advocate and tools are available to ensure everyone can cast their ballot, but it’s the voters responsibility to ask.
For information about voting and to learn more about accessible resources available, check out the following links.
- Find your poll site – Find My Poll Site/View Sample Ballot (vote.nyc);
- Information about accessibility voting – Accessibility | NYC Board of Elections (vote.nyc);
- Information about Ballot Marking Devices – Ballot Marking Device | NYC Board of Elections (vote.nyc); and
- Presentation by Board of Elections ADA Coordinator Ariel Merkel: Accessible Voting: Know Your Rights! – Lighthouse Guild.