DRT Collaborates with Tennessee Division of Elections to Increase Access to Online Voter Registration

  • July 20, 2017

by Thomas Hulley, DRT Advocate

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill to create a new online voter registration (OVR) system. Since part of our work at DRT is to protect the voting rights of Tennesseans with disabilities, we knew it was essential that Tennesseans who use assistive technology (AT) or have additional barriers to accessing the web could also access the online voter registration system. Through a partnership with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Division of Elections, we were able to collaborate by bringing together Division of Elections staff, including their web development team, and community members to provide feedback on the OVR system that is scheduled to launch later this year. 
 
Currently, Tennesseans register to vote on paper. A voter must print and mail a registration application or travel to a location where they can complete the registration application in person. With the introduction of an OVR system, voters will be able to complete the voter registration application in the comfort of their home without the need for transportation or postage. The benefits of OVR are numerous including:
  • High use of the system will result in reduced administrative fees for counties who will have fewer paper applications to process, 
  • Registration data will have higher accuracy as people input their own personal information, and of course, 
  • Greater ease and availability of the registration process could result in increases in voter rolls meaning increased civic engagement.

But if these benefits are to work for all Tennesseans, including those with disability, the system must be accessible. 

Recognizing the importance of the OVR system, DRT staff met with the Division of Elections to discuss web accessibility shortly after the OVR bill passed in 2016. We were able to share our expertise on the ongoing national conversation about web accessibility - read more here, here and here - and share guidelines and features that make websites work for everyone (like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), keyboard and screen reader compatibility, and more). 
 
After the Division of Elections spent months developing the website, and with the disability rights slogan “nothing about us without us” in mind, we got together with the Division of Elections again. This time we brought the everyday experts in to provide feedback – those who use AT or experience additional barriers to access the web.  Because of our strong relationship, the Division of Elections not only agreed to allow DRT staff and community member to test the site, but also to come to our office and receive feedback directly from participants. 
 

"Despite the issues we experienced with the system, I’m thankful that the Division of Elections was so willing to get feedback from the disability community."

Tricia-testing-OVR-system-(1).jpg

Image: DRT Advocate, Tricia Griggs, tests the OVR system.

Two weeks ago, we hosted this web testing event with three members of the Division of Elections office and representatives from local organizations including Empower TN, the Arc TN, Tennessee Allies in Self-Advocacy, and DRT staff. Each participant was able to test the site and provide feedback during the three hour session. While no website in the development process is perfect, and issues were identified (some of which have already been corrected at the time of this writing), the collaboration among these groups provided fruitful results. It was clear that the Division of Elections team had thoughtfully developed the OVR system with accessibility in mind and are working to correct issues that were identified.
 
DRT Advocate, Tricia Griggs, said of the event, “Despite the issues we experienced with the system, I’m thankful that the Division of Elections was so willing to get feedback from the disability community.” With Tennessee’s OVR system set to launch later this year, we are excited that those who use AT or have other barriers will not necessarily need to rely on others, but instead can use their own technology to complete their registration independently where they choose.