Get Out And Vote! Voter Registration Becoming More Accessible Than Ever
In 2014, it was estimated that out of the 35 million Americans with disabilities who were eligible to vote, only 15 million voted. That is a voter turnout rate of only 42 percent. Meanwhile, voter turnout for all Americans for the 2012 presidential election was about 55 percent. While these numbers may seem low, they show a slow and steady increase in voter turnout since 2000. In the 1990’s, the federal government determined that voter turnout was too low for their liking. They wanted to get more Americans to the polls on Election Day. The solution? Make voter registration easier and more accessible.
Since then, several laws and programs have been put in place to give every American a chance to register to vote. New technologies seem to come out every election cycle that makes the registration and the voting process easier. Today, the ability to register to vote online is available across most of the United States. And even more excitingly, we are seeing states start to use text-to-speech technology to make the voter registration process more accessible for people with disabilities!
In this blog post, we’ll take you back through the history of the voter registration process, and how it has rapidly changed since the turn of the century. We’ll also take a look at how TTS technology is being used today and how it could be used down the road in future elections!
Right to Vote Only for the Few
George Washington famously became the first president of the United States in 1789. However, only a mere 6 percent of the U.S. population were even eligible to vote at the time. The recently ratified U.S. Constitution did not define who was eligible to vote. This gave each individual state the power to make their own eligibility requirements. For the most part, only white men who owned property were eligible to vote.
So if you were one of the few who were eligible to vote, how did you register? Well, you didn’t. Back then, you did not register yourself. Instead, legislators were responsible for compiling a list of everyone who was eligible to vote in their jurisdiction. It wasn’t until the early 1800s when states started requiring individuals to register themselves to vote. The reason why states started moving toward this method of registration was to combat voter fraud, such as double voting or using fake names.
Expansion of Voting Rights
By the time of the Civil War in the mid-1800s, most white men, regardless of property ownership, were eligible to vote. The right to vote was still withheld from people of color, women, and Native Americans. Over the next 100 years, several laws would be enacted to give these people the right to vote.
- 1870 – The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits state and federal governments from denying a citizen voting rights based on race or skin color.
- 1920 – The Nineteenth Amendment prohibits state and federal governments from denying a citizen voting rights based on sex, giving women the right to vote
- 1924 – Remaining Native Americans become U.S. citizens, giving them the right to vote
- 1971 – The Twenty-sixth Amendment prohibits state and federal governments from denying a citizen voting rights based on age as long as they’re at least 18 years old.
Voter Registration Problems
While the Supreme Court was giving more citizens the right to vote, individual states still had control over the voter registration process. Many used that power to continue discriminating against minorities. Several states required literacy tests and taxes to register to vote in an effort to keep people of color from voting.
This continued for years until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected voter registration for minorities. This act paved the way for all eligible U.S. citizens to have an equal opportunity to register to vote. Literacy tests and poll taxes were a thing of the past.
Making Voter Registration Accessible
Fast-forward to the 1990’s. The government was looking for ways to improve low voter turnout numbers. What they decided was that it was necessary to create general standards for the voter registration process throughout the country.
After several unsuccessful attempts, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, or the Motor Voter Act, was signed into law in order to increase the number of registered voters and enhance voter registration. States were now required to make voter registration more accessible to its citizens. Since then, we have seen new technologies being used to make registration easier than ever, including text-to-speech!
Unless you’ve registered to vote in the past few years, chances are you haven’t experienced this. You can believe it though! Online voter registration became a reality in 2002 with Arizona pioneering the movement. This was a giant leap for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. Registering to vote became as simple as logging in to your home computer.
We still have some time before the entire United States has the opportunity to register to vote online, but as of today, 30 states (plus the District of Columbia) offer online registration! Take a look at the map below to see if your state is one of them.
(Florida and Oklahoma have enacted Online Voter Registration Acts, but have yet to implement them)
Text-to-Speech Makes an Impact
As stated earlier, TTS technology is now being used to help people register to vote! For example, the State of Indiana has added a TTS application to their online registration website. This app reads aloud the text on the computer screen. This is extremely helpful to people with vision disabilities or anyone else who might have difficulties reading their computer screen.
TTS is also starting to be used by voting machines! Voters can now have their ballots or the instructions read aloud to them if they are blind or visually impaired. The implementation of TTS technology has helped voting in the United States become more accessible than ever before!
Recently, the government has shown an interest in exploring the use of new technologies in the registration and voting processes. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, or EAC (created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002), has been pushing for more advances like the use of TTS. In 2009 and 2010, the EAC awarded a total 8 million dollars through a competitive grant program aimed at improving voter accessibility, called the Accessible Voting Technology Initiative.
What Role Will Text-to-Speech and Other Technologies Play in Increasing Voter Registration and Turnout?
It’s safe to assume that technology will continue to change our world at a rapid rate. It hopefully won’t be long until online voter registration is available in all 50 states. As far as TTS goes, anything that is written in text can be converted into speech, and we are already seeing this technology being utilized by online registration systems and by electronic voting machines.
We can only speculate as to what voter registration and voting will be like in the future. Who knows? Maybe both of these processes will one day be entirely controlled by our voices, and it would all take place in our home!
What do you think?
What have been your experiences with new technologies and voting? Is registering and voting easier for you now than in years past? Or do you have any predictions for the future? We want to hear it! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below to join the discussion!
Learn More about NeoSpeech’s Text-to-Speech
To learn more about the different areas in which Text-to-Speech technology can be used, visit our Text-to-Speech Areas of Application page. And to learn more about the products we offer, visit our Text-to-Speech Products page.
If you’re interested in adding Text-to-Speech software to your application or would like to learn more about TTS, please fill out our Sales Inquiry form and one of our friendly team members will be happy to help.