The Technology of Access: Allowing People of Age to Vote for Themselves

Ted Selker
McGeorge Law Review

With changing cognitive abilities, an aging person's independence becomes an issue, and questions arise of whether he or she has the ability or the legal right to take part in some civic activities, such as voting. The question of voting among elderly populations has a legal dimension; in their article, Voting by Residents of Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities: State Law Accomodations, Amy Smith and Charles Sabatino discuss how different states in the United States evaluate what assistive services should be provided to residents of nursing homes. Eight states hand caregivers the power to vote for voters living in certain care facilities, and many states prohibit voters under guardianship from voting. Yet guardianship does not necessarily preclude people from voting, as evidenced by a Maine 2001 case in which a ban against preventing persons under guardianship from voting was overturned on principle.

This article, however, does not discuss the legal implications of voting for people of age. Rather, it focuses on the implications of technology on voting. The premise of this article is that technology's goal is to create access. In this context, access should be contrasted with assistance. Technology should facilitate anyone legally permitted to vote (access) without relying on help from another person (assistance). To the extent that election officials can remove the barriers to voting independence--such thatthe intentions of voters can be recorded, recognized, and understood--officials will reduce the need and complications of having another person in the voting booth or completing an absentee ballot for a voter.

Universal access is an important goal of technology. This article examines several evolving voting technologies and their impact on persons with cognitive and physical disabilities. The research described shows how many accessibility technologies designed for people of age could also improve the performance of the general voting population. The number of people who make mistakes in the voting population varies dramatically. One study showed that--depending on the technology used--between one-half and three percent of voter selections on a typical ballot are actually for an adjacent selection.

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