Posted on

AOC aims to get out the vote by streaming Among Us with pokimane and HasanAbi

We are about seven months into a pandemic and just two weeks from a presidential election. At this point, surprises are a dime a dozen. So it should feel very 2020 that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about to stream Among Us, the hit game of 2020, on Twitch alongside mega-streamer pokimane and political analyst HasanAbi.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday that she was looking for people to play the popular game with in an effort to get out the vote, noting that she’s never played before but that it looks fun.

Streamer pokimane, who has 6 million followers on Twitch and whose YouTube videos regularly see more than 1 million views each, responded to the tweet with a figurative raised hand.

HasanAbi, a very popular political commentator on Twitch, who has more than 380,000 Twitter followers, also chimed in to the conversation saying that they’re already making a lobby. It wasn’t long before Rep. Ilhan Omar raised her hand, too.

A good game of Among Us (imagine that someone mixed a fairly basic multiplayer video game with a murder mystery party) usually requires 10 players, so the other six players are still TBD. But the Verge reports that a handful of other streamers (such as DrLupo, Felicia Day, Greg Miller, James Charles, and Neekolul) also lined up to play with AOC.

According to Ocasio-Cortez, the stream is all about getting out the vote. And this isn’t the first time that she’s used video games to connect with her followers. AOC opened up her DMs to all 6.8 million of her followers back in May to let them send her an invite to their island, and she visited them.

Millennial voters (and Gen Z) skew toward backing the Biden / Harris ticket, and AOC is coming to them by getting on Twitch and streaming one of the rocket ship games of this year.

The stream starts at 9pm ET/6pm PT and can be found here.

And you can check if you’re registered to vote here.

Update 9:01pm ET: AOC hasn’t even started playing the game yet and has nearly 250,000 concurrent viewers. 

Read More

Posted on

Investors appear to shrug at antitrust lawsuit aimed at Google

Investors do not seem concerned that the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against Google earlier today.

The suit, seen by some as a stunt near the election, is one of a multi-part push to change the face of the technology industry, which has seen its wealth and power expand in recent years. For example, technology companies now constitute nearly 40% of the value of the S&P 500, ahead of a 1999-era 37% share, according to The Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, the rising tide lifting many tech boats has provided huge gains to its largest players as well. Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are each worth north of $1 trillion apiece, making them historically valuable companies even amidst an economic downturn.

Those market caps do not appear to be in danger.

Today after lunch during regular trading hours the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index is up 0.86%, while Alphabet is up 0.91%, directly in line with broader trading. Shares of Alphabet initially rose this morning before giving back their gains. However, since those morning lows, shares of the tech giant have recovered to edge ahead of the market.

Investor reaction could shift regarding Google’s antitrust liabilities in time. The Department of Justice suit is hardly the only legal issue that the search giant is currently grappling with. But not today.

Read More

Posted on

Trump says ‘nobody gets hacked’ but forgot his hotel chain was hacked — twice

According to President Trump speaking at a campaign event in Tucson, Arizona, on Monday, “nobody gets hacked.” You don’t need someone who covers security day in and day out to call bullshit on this one.

“Nobody gets hacked. To get hacked you need somebody with 197 IQ and he needs about 15 percent of your password,” Trump said, referencing the recent suspension of C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully, who admitted falsely claiming his Twitter account was hacked this week after sending a tweet to former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

There’s a lot to unpack in those two-dozen words. But aside from the fact that not all hackers are male (and it’s sexist to assume that), and glossing over the two entirely contrasting sentences, Trump also neglected to mention that his hotel chain was hacked twice — once over a year-long period between 2014 and 2015 and again between 2016 and 2017.

We know this because the Trump business was legally required to file notice with state regulators after each breach, which they did.

In both incidents, customers of Trump’s hotels had their credit card data stolen. The second breach was blamed on a third-party booking system, called Sabre, which also exposed guest names, emails, phone numbers and more.

The disclosures didn’t say how many people were affected. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t “nobody.”

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.

It’s easy to ignore what could be considered a throwaway line: To say that “nobody gets hacked” might seem harmless on the face of it, but to claim so is dangerous. It’s as bad as saying something is “unhackable” or “hack-proof.” Ask anyone who works in cybersecurity and they’ll tell you that no person or company can ever make such assurances.

Absolute security doesn’t exist. But for those who don’t know any different, it’s an excuse not to think about their own security. Yes, you should use a password manager. Absolutely turn on two-factor authentication whenever you can. Do the basics, because hackers don’t need an IQ score of 197 to break into your accounts. All they need is for you to lower your guard.

If “nobody gets hacked” as Trump claims, it makes you wonder whatever happened to the 400-pound hacker the president mentioned during his first White House run.

Read More

Posted on

US charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack

Six Russian intelligence officers accused of launching some of the “world’s most destructive malware” — including an attack that took down the Ukraine power grid in December 2015 and the NotPetya global ransomware attack in 2017 — have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department.

Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John Demers, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. “Today the department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group, including unleashing the NotPetya malware. No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

The six accused Russian intelligence officers. Image Credits: FBI/supplied

In charges laid out Monday, the hackers are accused of developing and launching attacks using the KillDisk and Industroyer (also known as Crash Override) to target and disrupt the power supply in Ukraine, which left hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity two days before Christmas. The prosecutors also said the hackers were behind the NotPetya attack, a ransomware attack that spread across the world in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages.

The hackers are also said to have used Olympic Destroyer, designed to knock out internet connections during the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Prosecutors also blamed the six hackers for trying to disrupt the 2017 French elections by launching a “hack and leak” operation to discredit the then-presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, as well as launching targeted spearphishing attacks against the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.K.’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, tasked with investigating the use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, U.K. in 2018, and attacks against targets in Georgia, the former Soviet state.

The alleged hackers — Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, 32; Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, 35; Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, 28; Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, 29; Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, 27; and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin, 32 — are all charged with seven counts of conspiracy to hack, commit wire fraud and causing computer damage.

The accused are believed to be in Russia. But the indictment serves as a “name and shame” effort, frequently employed by Justice Department prosecutors in recent years where arrests or extraditions are not likely or possible.

Read More

Posted on

Google Assistant, Maps and Search can now help you figure out where to vote

Election Day approaches! Still not sure where the nearest polling place or ballot drop box is? Google wants to help.

This morning the company rolled out a handful of features across Google Assistant, Google Maps and Google Search, all meant to kick in when a user seems to be looking for information on voting locations.

On Google Search, for example, a search for “ballot drop boxes near me” will now bring up a dedicated tool for finding just that — punch in the address where you’re registered to vote, and it’ll help you find a drop box or polling place accordingly. The same tool will also pop up when you search for things like “how to find polling place” or “where to vote,” so there’s some flexibility in it.

Or if you’ve got an Assistant-powered device nearby (like a Nest Mini, Nest Hub or an Android phone), you can say “Hey Google, where do I vote?” and Assistant should be able to figure it out accordingly based on your current location (with Assistant assuming, as it’ll note in its response, that your current location is where you’re registered to vote).

The Maps integration is a bit more limited, but it gets the job done. Searching for “where do I vote” in the Google Maps mobile app results in a prompt that will toss you into the above web-based Google Search flow. Once you’ve found your location, tapping the “Directions” button will swing you back into the Maps app.

Google says it’s pulling its polling location information from the Voting Information Project as part of a partnership with Democracy Works. The company says they’ll be adding more polling places leading up until Election Day, expecting to have more than 200,000 in the system when all is said and done.

Don’t want to get your polling place details from Google, or just want to double check things? There’s always sites like Vote.org (which, if you’re curious, is what Siri recommends when prompted with the “Where do I vote?” question), which also provides info on checking your voter registration status, becoming a poll worker, etc.

Read More

Posted on

Dear Sophie: How can employers hire & comply with all this new H-1B craziness?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’ve been reading about the new H-1B rules for wage levels and defining what types of jobs qualify that came out this week. What do we as employers need to do to comply? Are any other visa types affected?

— Racking my brain in Richmond! 🤯

Dear Racking:

As you mentioned, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) each issued a new interim rule this week that affects the H-1B program. However, the DOL rule impacts other visas and green cards as well. These interim rules, one of which took effect immediately after being published, are an abuse of power.

The president continues to fear-monger in an attempt to generate votes through racism, protectionism and xenophobia. The fatal irony here is that companies were in fact already making “real offers” to “real employees” for jobs in the innovation economy, which are not fungible and are actually the source of new job creation for Americans. A 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that for every 100 professional, scientific and technical services jobs created in the private sector in the U.S., 418 additional, indirect jobs are created as a result. Nearly 575 additional jobs are created for every 100 information jobs, and 206 additional jobs are created for every 100 healthcare and social assistance jobs.

The DOL rule, which went into effect on October 8, 2020, significantly raises the wages employers must pay to the employees they sponsor for H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 specialty occupation visas, H-2B visas for temporary non-agricultural workers, EB-2 advanced degree green cards, EB-2 exceptional ability green cards and EB-3 skilled worker green cards.

The new DHS rule, which further restricts H-1B visas, will go into effect on December 7, 2020. DHS will not apply the new rule to any pending or previously approved petitions. That means your company should renew your employees’ H-1B visas — if eligible — before that date.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has formed a task force to review the rules and help with litigation. Although both the DOL and DHS rules will likely be challenged, they will likely remain in effect for some time before any litigation has an impact. They are actively seeking plaintiffs, including employees, employers and representatives of membership organizations who will be hurt by the new rules.

Read More

Posted on

Dear Sophie: Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A than an EB-1A?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A extraordinary ability visa than an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card? What are the pros and cons of each?

—Outstanding in Oakland

Dear Outstanding:

Thanks so much for your timely questions about the extraordinary ability visa and green card. The short answer to your first question is yes, the O-1A visa is generally easier and faster to get than an EB-1A green card. In fact, I once helped a client get an O-1A approved in three days — of course, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recently launched “Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp,” a new, 15-module online course that takes a deep dive into the O-1A extraordinary ability nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver for exceptional ability) and what it takes to file a successful application in each category. Check my podcast where I discuss the Bootcamp in more detail. Register for the Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee.

In general, the requirements for a green card, which enable its holder to live permanently in the U.S., are more stringent than those for nonimmigrant visas, which only allow a temporary stay in the U.S. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically takes longer to process green card petitions than nonimmigrant visa petitions. Moreover, the U.S. imposes numerical and per-country caps on the number of green cards issued each year, which means some green card categories for people born in some countries, such as India and China, face long waits. Only a few visas have an annual cap (like the H-1B), but the O-1A visa is not one of them.

That said, the EB-1A has one of the shortest USCIS processing times, compared to other employment-based green cards. Also, EB-1A petitions are eligible for premium processing, which requires USCIS to make a decision on a petition within 15 days (whether it is “calendar” days or “business” days is currently in flux!). The I-140 petition can be adjudicated quickly in a few weeks, but for somebody whose priority date is “current” on the Visa Bulletin, the determining factor for how long a green card takes is often the I-485 processing time in the local field office. Recently that’s been taking about 1.5-2 years for interviews in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, nonimmigration visa petitions can face delays for a number of reasons, but a delay happens most often when USCIS responds to a petition with a Request for Evidence (RFE). An RFE is a written notice from USCIS seeking additional evidence to make a decision on a case. During the past few years, the number of RFEs issued by USCIS for both visas and green cards has increased substantially.

Last month (September 2020) USCIS extended its policy of giving petitioners an extra 60 calendar days to respond to certain USCIS notices, including RFEs, intent to deny, revoke, rescind and terminate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For any of these notices dated between March 1, 2020, and January 1, 2021, a timely response will be considered 60 days after the date listed on the notice. Whether you want to take advantage of this extra time is a conversation to have with your attorney, based on the strength of your pending petition and the urgency of getting an approval.

As you probably know, the O-1A visa is for individuals who have achieved national or international acclaim and have risen to the top of their field in the areas of science, education, business or athletics. The EB-1A enables individuals who have achieved substantial international or national success in their field due to their extraordinary talent to live permanently in the U.S.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the O-1A and the EB-1A:

O-1A NONIMMIGRANT VISA

(Temporary Stay)

EB-1A GREEN CARD

(Permanent Residence)

Pros

  • Easier standard than EB-1A.
  • A change of status can be processed by USCIS in a few weeks.
  • Eligible for premium processing.
  • Unlimited extensions possible.
  • Does not require an LCA or PERM.
  • No annual cap.
Pros

  • Possible to self-petition without an employer sponsor or job offer.
  • I-140 is eligible for premium processing.
  • Green card: Allows you to permanently remain in the U.S.
  • Does not require an LCA or PERM.
  • Five years after green card can apply for citizenship.
Cons

  • Requires employer or agent sponsorship.
  • Requires job offer or itinerary of gigs.
  • Individuals cannot self-petition.
  • Might require union letter or advisory opinion.
  • Not a green card (permanent residence).
Cons

  • Multiyear process.
  • High evidentiary standard.
  • Annual numerical and per-country caps exist.
  • Backlog for people born in India and China.
  • Under a presidential proclamation issued in April, green cards not currently being issued at Consulates.

Keep in mind that like the EB-1, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card does not require an employer sponsor. However, the eligibility requirements for the EB-2 NIW are less stringent than for the EB-1A. For individuals born in India and China, the downside to the EB-2 NIW green card is that they face a much longer wait compared to the EB-1A. Unlike the EB-1A, premium processing is not available for EB-2 NIW petitions.

Remember, U.S. embassies and consulates are not processing green cards so you should try to apply for a green card while you remain in legal status in the U.S. Otherwise, you may have to return to and stay in your home country for a while.

Still, getting a visa or green card abroad remains possible. I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss which options best match your accomplishments, goals and timing. Remember, you can sign up for Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee to get qualified!

All my best,

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Read More

Posted on

Dear Sophie: Now that a judge has paused Trump’s H-1B visa ban, how can I qualify my employees?

On Thursday, October 1, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction that halted a presidential proclamation issued in June suspending the issuance of visas for some foreign workers until at least December 31, 2020.

The Trump administration asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing economic impacts made it necessary to impose a moratorium on issuing new green cards, but Judge Jeffrey S. White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that:

There must be some measure of constraint on Presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context, an area within clear legislative prerogative …

To explain how employers can respond to the judge’s order, TechCrunch columnist and Silicon Valley-based immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn has written a supplemental column.

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I just saw yesterday’s news that a judge issued a temporary injunction on the presidential proclamation that halted the issuance of H, L and J visas for individuals abroad, but that it only protects companies in the plaintiff organizations. We have several new hires waiting for visa interviews outside of the U.S. How can they now qualify to get visas to come to the U.S.?

— Supercharged in Sunnyvale

Dear Supercharged:

I’m thrilled that Judge Jeffrey S. White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California temporarily halted President Trump’s June proclamation, which suspended the issuance of H, J, L and other temporary work visas to individuals abroad.

Judge White found that Trump overstepped his authority and exercised “monarchical power” by barring these work visas, adding that it’s in the public interest to uphold the power of Congress in determining immigration matters. The executive proclamation “completely disregards both the economic reality and the preexisting statutory framework,” the judge wrote, “without any consideration of the impact on American firms and their business planning.”

The judge issued his order in response to a lawsuit filed in July by business groups against the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. The suit challenged the legality of the June proclamation, which suspended the issuance of H-1B and other temporary work visas — and corresponding dependent visas — at U.S. embassies and consulates.

The order requires U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within Homeland Security, and the State Department to resume processing and issuing the following visas to the plaintiff organizations that brought the lawsuit:

  • H-1B visas for specialty occupations, which means if you have an approved H-1B petition from the March 2020 H-1B visa lottery, your H-1B visa beneficiary could proceed for an interview consular processing.
  • H-2B visas for temporary nonagricultural workers.
  • H-4 visas for the dependent spouse and children of H-1B and H-2B visa holders.
  • J-1 visas for interns, trainees, teachers, camp counselors, au pairs or the summer work travel program.
  • J-2 visas for the dependent spouse and children of J-1 visa holders.
  • L-1 visas and Blanket L petitions for managers and executives or specialized knowledge workers.
  • L-2 visas for the spouse and children of L-1 visa holders.

However, the preliminary injunction only applies to members of the plaintiff organizations. Therefore, it may be prudent for your company to seek membership in one of the following plaintiff organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in order to seek inclusion in the protected group to qualify for visa interviews for your employees:

Judge White’s preliminary injunction remains in effect until a final ruling in the case — or an appeal of the case. An appeal appears likely given that last month in a separate case, Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia declined to halt both the June proclamation and one issued in April barring green card applicants from entering the U.S.

Also last week, another piece of welcome news affecting immigration came from Judge White: In a separate case, he blocked USCIS’s new fee rule that was slated to go into effect on Oct. 2, 2020. The new rule would have dramatically increased the fees for applying for many immigration and naturalization benefits, including visa and green card petitions.

I’m glad to hear that your visa candidates, particularly for H-1B visas, are only awaiting visa interviews at a U.S. embassy or consulate. That’s because USCIS is expected to issue a new rule shortly that is designed to further restrict the issuance of H-1B visas. The new rule is expected to narrow which jobs qualify for an H-1B specialty occupation visa, limit or even exclude H-1B beneficiaries working at a third-party worksite, and significantly increase the minimum wage rate for H-1B recipients.

Remember that travel restrictions remain in place that bar foreign nationals who have been in any of the following countries during the past 14 days from entering the U.S.:

  • China
  • Iran
  • The European Schengen areas of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City
  • United Kingdom
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Brazil

We often recommend that any new hires consider traveling to a country not on this list for at least a 14-day layover before proceeding to the U.S.

Congrats and best wishes!

Sophie


Adding to the recent string of good news in immigration, the Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) recently announced it will now issue PERM labor certifications electronically to employers, which should result in faster notifications. Employers must file for a PERM labor certification if they sponsor an employee for either an EB-2 or an EB-3 green card. The OFLC must approve a PERM application before an employer can submit an EB-2 or EB-3 green card petition to USCIS.


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Read More

Posted on

The next big tech hearing is scheduled for October 28

A day after the Senate Commerce Committee moved forward with plans to subpoena the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google, it looks like some of the most powerful leaders in tech will testify willingly.

Twitter announced late Friday that Jack Dorsey would appear virtually before the committee on October 28, just days before the U.S. election. While Twitter is the only company that’s openly agreed to the hearing so far, Politico reports that Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg also plan to appear.

Members of both parties on the committee planned to use the hearings to examine Section 230, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability from the content their users create.

As we’ve discussed previously, the political parties are approaching Section 230 from very different perspectives. Democrats see threatening changes to Section 230 as a way to force platforms to take more seriously toxic content like misinformation and harassment.

Many Republicans believe tech companies should be stripped of Section 230 protections because platforms have an anti-conservative bias — a claim that the facts don’t bear out.

Twitter had some choice words about that perspective, calling claims of political bias an “unsubstantiated allegation that we have refuted on many occasions to Congress,” and noting that those accusations have been “widely disproven” by researchers.

“We do not enforce our policies on the basis of political ideology,” the company added.

It sounds like the company and members of the Senate have very different agendas. Twitter indicated that it plans to use the hearing’s timing to steer the conversation toward the election. Politico also reports that the scope of the hearing will be broadened to include “data privacy and media consolidation” — not just Section 230.

A spokesperson tweeting on the company’s public policy account insisted that the hearing “must be constructive,” addressing how tech companies can protect the integrity of the vote.

“At this critical time, we’re committed to keeping our focus squarely on what matters the most to our company: joint efforts to protect our shared democratic conversation from harm — from both foreign and domestic threats,” a Twitter spokesperson wrote.

Regardless of the approach, dismantling Section 230 could prove potentially catastrophic for the way the internet as we know it works, so the stakes are high, both for tech companies and for regular internet users.

Read More

Posted on

Digital vote-by-mail applications in most states are inaccessible to people with disabilities

The 2020 election is without a doubt going to be the biggest one in history for voting by mail, but people with disabilities may find it rather difficult to apply for their ballot, since according to an audit by Deque, most states don’t actually have an accessible digital application.

Deque, a company that helps develop accessible web applications and processes, checked each state’s process for applying to receive a mail-in or absentee ballot (they’re basically the same thing). Disappointingly, 43 of the states’ applications “had some level of digital inaccessibility.”

This could be a variety of things, but take for example an application that’s a PDF. In order to be accessible the document should be real text that can be read by a screen reader app, and the user should be able to fill in the fields necessary without printing it and grabbing a pen.

Making a single form readable and writable can probably be done in an hour or two, which is why Deque did so and offered the updated forms to each state. Georgia, Rhode Island, Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky all quickly accepted the offered help. Michigan and Massachusetts have accessible online processes as alternatives to the PDFs, and several states don’t require applications.

The remainder have some sort of issue. That doesn’t mean that a blind person or someone who can’t write will be totally unable to request a mail-in ballot, but it won’t be as easy as it is for many others and they may need help from another person, which isn’t always easy to get on short notice. Deque has most of the states’ forms available with accessibility updates here.

“Voting is a right. It was an easy decision for us to offer these remediated PDFs as a free public service, hopefully making it easier for all to take advantage of mail-in voting options,” said Deque CEO Preety Kumar in a press release announcing the audit.

The effort to make and keep the web — and things like ordinary government functions — accessible is a full-time one. As those in the community have noted, it’s easier and better by far to design accessibility in at the start than patch it on later.

Read More