Ballot Marking Devices: An Accessible Vote of Confidence

Web Accessibility Knowledgebase

Jeremy Morak from the Lighthouse Guild shares how Ballot Marking Devices are game-changers for voters with disabilities. Here's how to make sure voting day goes smoothly.

Jeremy Morak

As Election Day approaches, millions of New Yorkers have already cast their ballot or are planning to vote on November 5.  

If you’ve ever felt frustrated or discouraged trying to vote on a paper ballot that is too difficult to read, you are not alone. However, you can ease this stressful situation by using a device that has been at your polling center for years. Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) are accessible machines that can enlarge your ballot’s font size or audibly read out every word you can listen to through headphones.  These machines are touchscreens with optional buttons on the side, helping users vote for their candidates in every race on a particular ballot. The machines are easy to use and offer a secure and independent voting experience for anyone who is blind, visually impaired, or unable to read and mark a paper ballot on their own. 

Dorothy Delayo, a poll worker for the NYC Board of Elections with over thirty years of experience, has been working diligently to inform NYC voters about many resources available to ensure their right to vote is never infringed. This past September, Delayo helped coordinate a special hands-on demonstration of BMDs at Lighthouse Guild — a nonprofit organization that offers services, programs, and a safe community for people who are blind and visually impaired. This unique opportunity allowed participants to learn about ballot marking devices and try them out with mock ballots, simulating the experience on Election Day. 

Delayo, a volunteer with Lighthouse Guild for the past two years, worked closely with Lighthouse Guild staff and Ariel Merkel, a coordinator in the Americans with Disabilities Act Executive Office at the NYC Board of Elections, to provide information about accessible resources, and answer questions from NYC voters living with vision loss. Delayo is a staunch advocate for voters with disabilities and has essential tips to help individuals who need assistance when they vote:

Ask to use a Ballot Marking Device as soon as you arrive

There is at least one functioning BMD at every NYC polling site, and you have the right to ask to use it for any reason. As soon as you sign in, let the poll worker know that you would like vote using a ballot marking device. If you want to see how the machine works, you have the right to get assistance and must be aided by two poll workers, one from each party (Democrat and Republican). 

If you are told that the Ballot Marking Devices are not working, ask to speak with the Poll Site Coordinator

Every poll center should have two BMDs available, and at least one must always be functional. Make sure you speak with the Poll Site Coordinator and let them know if the machine is not working properly. They are required to reach out to the Board of Elections and have a replacement device delivered as soon as possible.

Be assertive and know your rights

Do not be intimidated if your polling center appears crowded or hectic. You are your best advocate; tools are available to ensure you can cast your ballot, but it’s your responsibility to ask! 

For more information about voting in NYC, and to learn more about accessible resources available, check out these links:

Find your poll site

Information about accessibile voting

Information about Ballot Marking Devices

Accessible Voting: Know Your Rights! - Lighthouse Guild

About Jeremy:

Jeremy Morak is a Marketing Manager at Lighthouse Guild, a nonprofit organization that provides services and programs to help people who are blind and visually impaired attain their goals. Jeremy, who has been legally blind since birth, not only helps promote exceptional services for vision health, he also has been receiving services for years. Jeremy is currently the Vice Chair of the Lighthouse Guild Visionary Committee, where he also serves as the chair of the Advocacy and Awareness subcommittee. This group, comprised of young professionals, works with Lighthouse Guild to form initiatives and fundraisers to make a difference for people who are blind or low vision.