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1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111 ART DIRECTOR 111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111IIII FIND OUT MORE AT women presumably would have to listen to the description and “Depending on what that individual woman’s personal situation is, that could make it a pretty emotionally traumatic experience for her,” Wheat says. “It’s one thing to require that they be offered this information:’ she says, but mandating it amounts to “callousness and insensitivity:’ The bill contains an exemption for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. That was the sticking point for Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry last year, when his state’s legislature passed a bill that, like HB 36, would have required doctors to display and describe ultrasounds. “By forcing the victims of such horrific acts to undergo and view ultrasounds after they have made such a difficult and heartbreaking decision,” Henry’s veto read, “the state victimizes the victim for a second time:’ The Oklahoma Legislature overrode Henry’s veto, but because of pending litigation, the law is under temporary injunction. Corte argues that his bill isn’t just about women’s rights; it’s also about transparency. “You wouldn’t go in for treatment on a broken foot,” he says, “without an X-ray.” Susan Peterson DISABLING DEMOCRACY House Bill 419 Rep. Betty Brown, R-Kaufman Every now and then, Texas takes the lead on an issue. Accessible voting, to name one. But as any firstborn child will attest, there are costs and difficulties associated with being out in front. Rep. Betty Brown has found a way to alleviate some of the financial burdens that Texas communities have felt in their transition to a more democratic system. Her solution? Simple. Leave some people out. Brown’s House Bill 419 exempts cities with populations below 5,000 from a requirement that local elections have at least one electronic voting machine for voters with disabilities. The accessibility requirement has its roots in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which mandates that polling places in federal elections have at least one accessible system for people who previously relied on assistance to vote. The rationale: “An equal vote means a vote that is private and independent,” says Dustin Rynders, a HAVA policy specialist and attorney for Advocacy Inc., a federally funded statewide advocate for the rights of the disabled. Texas extended the requirement to local elections, but the federal government balked at providing funds for the local contests. So Texas counties had to pay for accessible systems if they didn’t have one already. Local election costs rose at varied rates across the state, depending on the machines and vendors counties used. The city of Forsan reported it would cost $125 to lease a system and $1,000 to program it. The city of Smiley reported the same rental price but said programming would cost $304. “It is unfair to require a small town to spend such a large portion of their budget on providing these machines,” Brown says. “Some small cities bought the voting machines, which increased the cost of their elections by thousands of dollars, only to find out that they were underutilized or not used at all.” Rynders blames the “underuse” on inexperience. “Especially at the time that electronic voting machines were first introduced,” he says, “we would receive calls from voters who wanted to use the machines but were not able to because inadequately trained poll workers were not yet comfortable using and demonstrating the machines. We received calls from voters who did not know machines were available, complained that machines were not plugged in, or were inappropriately placed in inaccessible locations:’ Since then, several groups have pitched in to train voters and workers on the new technology. “As a result,” says Rynders, “machines are being used by more and more voters, including those who need their accessibility features:’ Brown’s solution to the cost problem is not unprecedented. The 2007 Legislature created a tiered system of compliance based on county size. Counties with populations under 2,000 were exempted from the voting-machine requirements. In all, more than half of Texas counties were granted some exemption from the accessibility requirements. But among the state’s 44 counties with populations between 10,000 to 20,000, which the Legislature allowed to provide fewer machines if they could demonstrate that their election costs would increase by at least 25 percent, the Secretary of State’s office estimates that only “around 10” claimed an undue burden in the past year. Brown’s bill is flariked by two similar efforts. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has filed House Bill 355, which would create exemptions for political subdivisions containing fewer than 1,500 people, no matter the county size. House Bill 381, by Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, would do the same for subdivisions with fewer than 5,000. “This is disenfranchisement:’ says Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “They are saying that they’re not going to bother to pay the costs of a certain class of voter.” Reeve Hamilton FEBRUARY 20, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17