Short Film Profile

HAVA in New York: The Long Road to a Fundamental Right

After polls closed on Election Day 2008, many Americans celebrated the election of Barack Obama. In contrast, most citizens were unaware of the struggle faced by New Yorkers with disabilities to gain access to their voting rights through the use of advocacy, media battles, protests, and lawsuits. As the first African American President was elected to office, would New Yorkers with disabilities be able to cast their ballots at accessible polling places and voting machines?

Imagine having to vote by absentee ballot because your local polling place makes it difficult for you to exercise your fundamental right to vote as an American citizen. As a disability rights advocate, you are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the fact that polling places SHOULD be physically accessible. Your polling place has eventually become accessible to your scooter, but the new issue is the inaccessible voting machines. Passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) ensures that there must be at least one accessible voting machine per polling by 2006. However, New York State refuses to comply with the new Federal law.

With the pressure of advocates, the US Department of Justice sues the State of New York into compliance. You want to find out want these new Ballot Marking Devices (BMD's) are all about, so you show up at your polling place to vote on Election Day. You are told by elections officials, 'I'm sorry, we have you down as voting by absentee ballot.' You insist on your right to vote at your designated polling place on a voting machine. They don't have a Ballot Marking Device. Instead, they have to crank down an old lever machine, but nobody knows how to do it. They call county officials to make sure it is okay for you to vote on the old machine and find out how to lower the device so you can reach the levers.

This is the story of advocates fight to win their voting rights and it is still not over!

Film notes

After an introduction frames the issue, the documentary investigates the struggle by disability rights advocates to vote privately and independently at accessible polling places and voting machines in New York State. The introduction considers a brief pre-Help America Vote Act (HAVA) time period (before and up to 2002).

The rest of the documentary is then divided into four additional segments and covers the time span after the passage of HAVA. In 'Attempts to Be a Part of the Solution,' advocates discuss various attempts to present information such as position papers, testimony, or assist with voting machine testing or conduct surveys to identify inaccessible polling places. The information is largely ignored.

In 'Dissent and Democracy,' disability rights advocates fight back with protests, awareness in the media, and lawsuits to elevate the issue.

In '2007 A Pivotal Year,' key activities are chronicled related to legislative bills, advocacy efforts, and the Federal Judge's court order that secures the right to one accessible voting machine per polling place.

Finally, 'A New Day of Decision' recaps the discussion and issue.
disability voting access civil rights




Copyright © 2009 WNYILP and NYSILC

Previous screenings

6 Feb – 10 Feb | Calgary, Canada
Illuminating Disability in Film | 2010
12 May – 13 May | Edmonton, Canada

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Information on this profile is provided by the film owners and/or compiled from available sources | Profile updated 13 Jan 2012