Disability advocate warns hand-marked ballots ‘worst possible system’ for Louisiana elections

By: - February 15, 2022 7:54 am
Louisiana lawmakers target local voting rules with proposed amendment

Local governments in Louisiana would be prohibited from making their own voter registration rules under a constitutional amendment that was advanced Wednesday in the Legislature. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Hand-written ballots – the most popular option among those pushing false claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged – would be the “worst possible system” for voters with disabilities, an access advocate stressed to a committee that’s evaluating options for Louisiana election technology.

Tory Rocca, public policy and community engagement director for Disability Rights Louisiana, told the Louisiana Voting System Commission hand-written ballots would exclude individuals with visual disabilities and those who can’t use their hands.

Rocca wants Louisiana officials to use an electronic voting system with ballot-marking devices. A new law requires the state to switch to machines that create a paper trail that can be audited, moving away from the fully digital machines in place for the past two decades.

“Using ballot-marking devices across the board would be the most accessible thing for people with disabilities,” Rocca said.

The Louisiana Voting System Commission, which has been holding meetings since November, is a 13-member panel of state officials. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin chairs the group.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, sponsored legislation to create the commission after angry supporters of former President Donald Trump descended on a legislative committee meeting and repeated Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. 

A hybrid voting system model, where voters with disabilities are allowed to use ballot-marking devices and able-bodied voters use hand-marked ballots, “does likely satisfy the requirements” of the Help America Vote Act and the American Disabilities Act, Rocca said. 

But it still would present challenges to disabled voters, he added.

Problems he envisions include poll workers not being trained well enough to use ballot-marking devices meant for voters with disabilities. If a hybrid machine broke down, poll workers would have to assist disabled voters, raising privacy and security concerns.

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“If everybody’s voting on the same type of machine … then the polling workers are trained to use that machine,” Rocca said. “It’s much more likely that the accessible machine will be available and working properly and updated properly and properly checked if that is the machine that everybody is using.”

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The law created a Jan. 31 deadline for the commission to provide a report to Ardoin with its recommendation for a new voting system. Gov. John Bel Edwards suspended that deadline indefinitely last month, citing Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The commission’s next meeting will be on Feb. 23 at the Louisiana State Capitol.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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