How to Make Early Voting More Accessible in New York

 BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE—August 10, 2023—On November 5, 2022, when Blaise Bryant and his fiancée, Erin, passed by an early voting poll site near their home in Rensselaer County, New York, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity and cast their ballots in the 2022 general election. “I think early voting is a tremendously good thing. I’m so glad it exists,” Blaise shared a few weeks later, despite having encountered significant frustration that day.

Blaise, who is blind, immediately realized that his voting experience would be challenging. During the check-in process, poll workers addressed Erin instead of speaking directly to him and tried to interact with his guide dog. When Blaise asked to use a ballot marking device (BMD) — an accessible voting system that allows people with print disabilities to mark their ballots privately and independently — he learned that one was not set up for use and that the poll workers did not know how to start an accessible voting session. Tired of waiting, Blaise whispered his choices to Erin and she marked his ballot so they could move on with their day.

“The best way I can put it was that I was treated less than because of my blindness. This stuff happens way too much,” Blaise observed. “It happens at an alarming rate.”

Blaise is among the more than 3.8 million New Yorkers age 18 or older, approximately 25 percent of the adult population, with a disability that affects their mobility, cognition, vision, hearing, independent living, or self-care. New Yorkers with disabilities come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and live across the state in rural, urban, and suburban communities. Despite hard-won civil rights protections, people with disabilities continue to face barriers to full participation in society. Schools, workplaces, transportation, and a host of other public and private spaces and services remain difficult to access. The ballot box is no exception.

Read the full report here.