West Virginia Expands Online Voting Option in Upcoming Primary Election for Citizens with Disabilities

Amid pandemic concerns surrounding voting in-person, West Virginia announces secure online solution for voters with disabilities and members of the military in an effort to expand additional voting options

Tusk Philanthropies (TP) announced today West Virginia is implementing online voting for a second time in their primary elections in June. West Virginia was the first state in the nation to pilot online voting in 2018 for overseas and military voters. Given the success of last year’s pilot for UOCAVA voters, Secretary of State Mac Warner led the effort to make West Virginia the second state in the nation to offer online voting for certain citizens with disabilities.

Earlier this year, the West Virginia legislature passed Senate Bill 94 that will allow voters with physical disabilities that prohibit them from voting at the polls and mark an absentee ballot without assistance with the ability to receive, mark and return their ballots electronically or by mail. According to Secretary Warner, this is an important milestone in expanding voter accessibility for West Virginia’s disabled community by providing safe and easier access to voting in the primary election. All registered voters who have a qualifying physical disability or are overseas or in active-duty military and their eligible dependents will be able to use their computer, smartphone, or tablet to vote in the upcoming election.

For many citizens with physical disabilities, voting in-person creates a number of barriers to access and makes it difficult at times, if not impossible, to vote. Until now, these citizens have been left with few options to exercise their right to vote secretly. The recent passing of this legislation in West Virginia also provides voters with physical disabilities the opportunity to vote privately and independently from the comfort and safety of their own home.

“This health pandemic is proof that we need additional secure and accessible options for voting,” said Bradley Tusk, CEO and Founder of Tusk Philanthropies. “The need for mobile voting as an option in our elections could not be clearer. We need to be able to provide additional voting solutions for members of the disabled community for when polling places are shut down amid a crisis, and for those that can’t access the polls even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. We need more innovative elected officials like Secretary Warner and the WV legislature who continue to push for new solutions to increase turnout in elections.”

The pilot is a collaboration between West Virginia, Democracy Live, Tusk Philanthropies, and the National Cybersecurity Center. Eligible voters will be able to participate in the upcoming election by opting in to vote electronically on their smartphones, laptops, or even at their local library. All voters that qualify to use the system will have the option to print and mail their ballot or the elections office can print the ballot after it has been submitted via the portal. 100% of all ballots are verified by the voter and tabulated via a paper ballot.

To access their ballot, participating voters will log into the secure Democracy Live portal on their computers or smart devices using their login credentials. Once the voter has made all their selections, they will have the opportunity to review their ballot to ensure it was marked correctly. Similar to how traditional absentee voting is done in West Virginia, all voters sign their name sign before returning their ballot. The signature and ballot may be submitted via mail, or through the portal. Ballots will be verified and tabulated by the local elections office. The Secretary’s office also released a video for West Virginia voters that showcases how to cast their vote online.

Absentee voting in West Virginia began on Friday, March 27, but ceased on April 1 after the Governor postponed the primary election until June 9 because of the Coronavirus emergency to protect the public health. Absentee voting will resume on Friday, April 24 and continues through 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, June 9.

“It is often said that every vote counts. In West Virginia, every voter counts too,” said Secretary of State Mac Warner. “Online voting allows West Virginia to eliminate barriers and allow more of our citizens to participate in our democracy.”

“Democracy Live is honored to serve the State and voters of West Virginia with our fully accessible, ADA-compliant balloting tool,” said Bryan Finney, CEO of Democracy Live. “Nearly 15% of the voting population in the U.S. cannot see, hold, or mark a paper ballot independently. We applaud the State for ensuring the franchise for all voters, including those with physical disabilities.”

“An accessible method for blind voters in all jurisdictions to fill out absentee or vote-by-mail ballots privately and independently is required by law and critical to ensuring equality for blind and deafblind voters, as well as voters with other disabilities,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We applaud West Virginia for putting such a method in place so rapidly as the coronavirus pandemic makes the need even more urgent. We strongly urge that other jurisdictions implement similar methods expeditiously, and we invite election officials to consult with us about voting systems to ensure these systems provide equal access to the blind.”

ELIGIBILITY

To Be Eligible to Vote Using This Solution, An Individual Must Be: 1. A resident of the State of West Virginia; 2. Registered to Vote; and 3. A Citizen with a qualifying physical disability that prohibits them from voting at the polls and without assistance.

OVERSIGHT

The coalition approach ensures inclusivity and diverse perspectives. Partners in the effort combine expertise in election systems, research, communications, and managing the deployment of successful proofs of concept. The initiative is strictly nonpartisan and is open to engagement with civic innovators, technologists, academics, and philanthropic leaders.

OmniBallot is auditable, transparent, secure and accurate. At the end of the voting process, a paper ballot is downloaded by the elections administrator and printed for tabulation. A voter verified paper ballot is always available for a hand recount if necessary. Voting online helps reduce human error, provides faster results and can build trust in institutions. Increasing participation and accessibility in elections can increase civic engagement and voter turnout.

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