Tech issues keep public out of Disability Voting Task Force meeting

Louisiana needs online voting for disabled people, advocate says

By: - October 10, 2022 10:20 pm
Voter walks into temporary precinct in random warehouse

Technical difficulties at the Claiborne Building plagued Louisiana’s Disability Voting Task Force meeting Oct. 10, 2022, preventing 19 people from attending via its virtual live stream — a critical means of access for some disabled people. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

Technical difficulties at the Claiborne Building plagued Louisiana’s Disability Voting Task Force meeting Monday, preventing nearly 20 people from attending via its virtual live stream — a critical means of access for some disabled people. 

Louisiana Secretary of State spokesman John Tobler said in a phone interview that the task force had experienced technical problems with YouTube’s live stream function and could not fix it without disconnecting others who attended via the Zoom platform. 

Task force member Ashley Shelton, who represents the Louisiana Power Coalition, said there were 19 people unable to access the meeting’s YouTube stream. 

“We had partners that tried to get on from [the] Legal Defense Fund and others who could not access the live stream,” Shelton said. 

Monday marked just the second meeting of the new task force that state Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, created with legislation during the 2022 regular session. Its goal is to study solutions to any impediments that prevent disabled people from voting.

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The meeting, held at the Claiborne Building near the State Capitol, lasted about 30 minutes and concluded with no public comments or feedback from the handful of spectators who attended in person. 

The first meeting in September was held in one of the committee rooms at the Capitol, but the legislature’s livestream capabilities didn’t have a split-screen function for a sign-language interpreter to be shown on the feed during a PowerPoint presentation, Shelton said. The task force relocated to the Claiborne Building for that reason, she added. 

The bulk of Monday’s testimony came from Donald Palmer with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), who presented a slideshow to highlight the services it provides regarding disability access to voting. 

One issue that drew discussion among the task force members was Louisiana’s electronic ballot delivery method. Voters with disabilities can apply to the Secretary of State to receive an electronic absentee ballot in portable document format (PDF). 

Task force member Lillian Dejean, a senior coordinator with the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs, pointed out that a disabled voter can receive the PDF ballot electronically but cannot return it via email or through a secure online portal. 

“The person would still be required to print their ballot and either drop it off at a polling location or mail it in to a registrar’s office, and that’s not accessible to people with disabilities,” Dejean said. “So I would like to see on this commission a lot more discussion about remote ballot returns so we can make absentee voting accessible — because right now it’s not.”

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who chairs the task force, asked his staff to find out whether legislation would be required to allow disabled voters to submit absentee ballots electronically. 

Dejean said other states, such as Colorado, West Virginia and Nevada, have adopted systems that permit electronic absentee voting for people with a disability. 

Palmer confirmed the EAC is working to test such systems, adding that the agency tries to remain “agnostic” on policy recommendations. He said the commission is available to make sure voting systems are secure and accessible.  

Thirty-one states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, allow certain voters — typically military or overseas voters or voters with disabilities — to return voted absentee ballots electronically, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The task force will not meet again before the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8. Its next meeting is set for Jan. 9, 2023. Tuesday, Oct. 11, is the deadline to register to vote in-person or by email for next month’s election, and Oct. 18 is the deadline to register online

Voters with disabilities can visit the Secretary of State’s website to apply for an absentee ballot.

“I would really really love to see more people with disabilities present [testimony] on accessibility issues,” Dejean said as the meeting concluded. “We have great leaders across the country, so we really can have those authentic voices that we mentioned earlier.”


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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi.