For many citizens in democracies around the world, the ability to cast an election ballot is often a given. But what if you had a disability, difficulties with language or reading, limited mobility or other conditions that excluded you from participating in the election process? In fact many people face a variety of social and technological barriers that impede their ability to cast their ballot privately and independently. In this challenge, OpenIDEO and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation are asking our community to find ways to improve election accessibility for people with disabilities and other limitations. With your help, we’re eager to design new solutions that make the entire voting process – from registering to vote to casting a ballot – accessible for everyone.
Understanding the Context
Voting is an important activity for citizens in any democracy. But when elections are not accessible, people with disabilities – some 10-20% of potential voters – are left out. To provide some context, the U.S. Census Bureau  says that over 36 million Americans have a disability of some kind. The United Nations  says this adds up to 650 million people worldwide.
This number may seem like a lot on its own, but in fact it doesn’t include the worldwide population of people whose access to elections is restricted for other reasons: because they don’t speak the local language, they struggle with illiteracy, they live far from a polling place, or they face various challenges related to aging, to name a few. Given this, when we talk about access to elections we must remember to include citizens with diverse cultural backgrounds, technology experiences, literacy and language proficiency, and abilities.
In the United States, a 2002 law (the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA) said that people with disabilities must be able to vote with “the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.” Although much has been done to increase voting accessibility, more progress is needed in the United States and around the world.
We have invited election officials around the United States to join the OpenIDEO community for this challenge, adding their perspectives and expertise to the innovation process. For example, Los Angeles County elections officials will be following this challenge in their pursuit of a modern voting system. In L.A. County alone, your ideas during this challenge can help improve the voting experience for 4.5 million voters.
While each country has its own election system, and we have only a limited ability to change that, we can focus on making elections more accessible, through new technologies, communications tools, and processes.
How might we ensure that everyone – regardless of their physical, mental or psychological abilities – has equal access to the election process? How can we design for universal access, identify new technologies or develop new tools, so that everyone can use the same voting systems?
This challenge is non-partisan: it does not support any political parties or political interests. Read this challenge’s Guiding Principles for more. For more background on accessibility in elections, these sources are a good place to start.
Look back on the design priorities the community focused on during this challenge.
 US Census Bureau
Hero Image credits, clockwise from top left: Flickr (rockinpaddy, January 2012); Flickr (timmyo, January 2012); Flickr (expertinfantry, January 2012); courtesy LA County; courtesy LA County; Flickr (José Serra, January 2012).
About the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a non-profit think tank at the cutting edge of designing policies that will boost economic growth and improve quality of life in the United States and around the world. The ITIF Accessible Voting Technology Initiative is a project funded by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to make voting processes and technology more accessible. On this project, ITIF is partnering with researchers from universities across the United States and the National Federation of the Blind. This challenge is one way we are exploring new ideas for improving elections. For more about our project, go to http://elections.itif.org.
Challenge Partner:L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk
Community & Social Media Manager:Meena Kadri
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