BMDs: The Common-Sense Voting Solution

A woman's hand presses buttons on the Brailled keypad of a BMD; a headphone cord comes out of a headphone jack on the machine.

BMDs: The Common-Sense Voting Solution

This might come as a surprise to you, but on Election Day, there are actually a few things we can all agree on. We all want the right to a private ballot, for example. We all want to ensure accurate election results. And we all want to eliminate errors that could potentially make our votes invalid. These are some of the benefits of using ballot marking devices, or BMDs.

What Is a BMD?

A BMD is a type of voting machine that allows voters to mark a paper ballot using an electronic interface. The paper ballot is then scanned or counted manually. In addition, many BMDs have accessibility features built in like audio prompts, headphone jacks, tactile keyboards, and the ability to adjust the size of the print on the screen.

The Benefits of Widespread Use of BMDs

Private ballots for all. Because BMDs have built-in accessibility features, voters with certain disabilities can use them to cast independent ballots, without the help of poll workers or friends.

More accurate election results. BMDs do not allow voters to over vote a contest, which means they cannot select more than the maximum number of candidates allowed in any given category. BMDs also prevent under voting in states that do not allow under votes. By preventing over and under voting, election results will be more accurate.

Fewer errors and ambiguity. BMDs avoid the ambiguity associated with hand-marked paper ballots. Ambiguous votes on a hand-marked ballot can be caused by stray marks that get mistakenly counted or scanned, a voter circling a name rather than filling in a bubble, or a voter crossing out candidates. BMDs also eliminate the risk of illegible handwriting when it comes to write-in candidates.

The Problem with Partial Use of BMDs

Currently, paper ballots produced by BMDs are submitted alongside hand-marked paper ballots. But BMD ballots are often a different size and shape from hand-marked ballots. This means that the ballots of many disabled voters are extremely easy to identify—and potentially target.

Targeting easily identifiable ballots for political gain is an issue we’ve seen recently in a North Carolina congressional election. In that case, hired political operatives were able to identify and tamper with absentee ballots in the hopes of ensuring victory. It was very unethical and very illegal, and it caused so much trouble that the election will have to be conducted all over again.

The only way to ensure a truly private vote for both the disabled and the nondisabled community is to have all voters use BMDs. That way, everyone can vote independently and privately, and all ballots will look exactly the same, virtually eliminating the possibility of targeting either group.

Rebuttal to Security Advocates

The idea of across-the-board use of BMDs has received some pushback from security advocates who claim that the technology that offers independent access to voting presents a security risk. This is a fallacy. Remember, BMDs produce paper ballots, which are then scanned or counted manually, just like hand-marked paper ballots. However, we agree that best practices can and should be put into place to prevent tampering with the BMDs themselves.

Security advocates have also claimed that we are pawns for BMD vendors, or that private ballots for the blind aren’t really a necessity. First and foremost, we are not pawns!

A Private Vote for Everyone

The nation’s blind have fought for the right to a private and independent ballot for decades. Not only are private ballots necessary, they are a hallmark of our democracy. Treating disabled voters separately amounts to treating us unequally. This concept was solidified in 1954 when the US Supreme Court began to overturn “separate but equal” laws. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that voters with disabilities be provided an opportunity to vote that is equal to the opportunity provided to nondisabled voters.

In the end, if all voters use BMDs, we can ensure a private ballot for both disabled and nondisabled voters, ensure more accurate election results, and reduce the likelihood of errors. It’s a common-sense solution for everyone.

—Lou Ann Blake