Photo courtesy of NYC Board of Elections.

Frantz Ceran is wheelchair-bound and can only use his right hand. So when he went to vote in Mott Haven this Election Day, the 57-year-old was happy to see a device that would help him fill out his ballot.

Thirty minutes later, Ceran finally cast his vote.  He required the help of two poll workers to use the new voting machines, which made their debut in a general election on Nov. 2.

“The new machine required a lot of assistance,” Ceran said. “I don’t think the machine is fit for the disabled, especially people who can only use one hand.”

The new machines come with a ballot marking device or BMD,  designed to permit disabled voters cast their ballot without assistance, and so gain the privacy other voters take for granted.

Rima McCoy, the voting rights coordinator at the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, said the new machines do help the disabled vote in confidence.

“With lever machines, those with disabilities had to have someone vote for them,” she said. “They wouldn’t know if the person voted the way they wanted them to.”

Residents of the Community Resource Center in the Mott Haven, which houses the developmentally disabled, chose not to use the ballot marking device. Instead, they had their attendants help them fill out their ballots.

“I don’t think anyone really told them about the new machines,” Elizabeth Santiago, program manager at the center, said.

“But now that I know, maybe we’ll have the residents try it out next election, especially the sip and puff straw. That may be the best way,” she said.

The sip and puff straw permits voters to control the movement of the ballot marker by mouth.

The battle for disabled voter rights began in the 1990s, but McCoy said it wasn’t until when Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 that real change began to be made. The law required all polling sites to have at least one accessible voting machine for people with disabilities.

Mindy Jacobson of the National Federation Of the Blind of NY State first used the ballot marking device in 2008. Previously, Jacobson had had to rely on poll workers to cast her vote.

“I almost cried when I left the poll site because I could finally vote by myself,” said Jacobson, who is blind.

She was relieved to know that she wouldn’t have poll worker looking over her shoulder.

“I actually had a poll worker say to me before, ‘Are you sure you want to vote for this person?’” she said.

But Ceran is not alone in his discontent with the New York’s new machines.

Thomas K. Small, a lawyer from Brooklyn, said the ballot marking device at his polling station wasn’t working during September’s primary. Small, who is wheelchair-bound, relies on the “sip-and-puff” straw method to vote. When the machine didn’t work, he had to have his attendant fill out the ballot on his behalf.

His frustration began to grow. “The poll worker started talking to an attendant and didn’t talk to me directly,” Small complained.

Critics say poll workers need better training.

The New York City Board of Elections said the 36,000 poll workers completed six hours of training for November’s election. Part of that training was “dedicated to disability awareness and included training on serving disabled voters with respect and sensitivity,” said Valerie Vazquez, the communications director for the Board of Elections.

Though Frantz Ceran was disappointed with the ballot marking device, he said he would use it again in the next election.

“At least now, there is some advancement for people with disabilities to vote,” he said.

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