Voting made accessible.

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“The core of our American democracy is the right to vote. Implicit in that right is the notion that that vote be private, that vote be secure, and that vote be counted as it was intended when it was cast by the voter. And I think what we’re encountering is a pivotal moment in our democracy where all of that is being called into question.”  (Former California Sec. of State Kevin Shelley) Last Friday, I performed an important duty as a citizen of this country, I voted. This was my third presidential election to vote in, though for the past few years, I have made it a point to vote in the annual local elections as well. One big reason for my diligence in even the small elections is accessibility. I remember the first time I voted. My sighted husband was with me, and they allowed us to go into a booth together so that he could read the ballot to me and I told him my selections. Him being my husband, I felt comfortable doing this, but I still wished for a way that I could vote independently. If my husband had not been with me, one of the office volunteers could have read the ballot to me, making me a bit less comfortable. So I didn’t vote each year, sometimes it was because of time constraints, others because I just wasn’t motivated, knowing that someone would have to make those marks for me. A few years ago, I saw an ivotronic machine made accessible for the very first time. It is basically a normal electronic voting machine with software that provides speech during the voting process. What a fantastic thing! Now, I was able to put on a headset, push the buttons that were marked in braille, and hear and choose my selections. Every year since, I have voted and been happy to use the talking voting machine. This comodity is not available in all states or voting locations, and many still have to contend with the old dependence on a designated sighted person to cast their votes. According to the National Federation for the Blind, the 2008 election is the first where blind voters are guaranteed their privacy and equality in the voting process. While electronic voting still has some pitfalls and many do not trust that their vote counts propperly, I would ask them; How do you know your paper balots were counted propperly? I used to feel that way when a stranger marked my balot for me. How do I know they bubbled in what I wanted? With the added accessibility, I feel more confident in voting than before, despite opinions that say e-voting is less reliable than the traditional paper balot. So what is it like? I’ll tell you as best as I can just how the experience was for me, and give a few side comments.I enter the poling location, my photo ID in hand. I sign in at the desk and simply tell them I would like to use the audio ballot. They walk with me to the machine and plug a headset in. They put a cartridge in and select my precinct and activate the audio. Then I have the chance to select audio only, and the language I wish to use, today it was English or Spanish. Then I am left alone to make my selections, but my screen is blank so that no one can see my choices. The synthesized but clear voice gives directions on how to use the machine and make choices. The main buttons I use are up and down and the diamond button which is select. I am told how many contests there are total and am placed at contest 1. As it announces each contest, it also tells how many selections or choices there are within that contest. My only complaint, and it’s a little one, is that there is no way to adjust the speed of the voice. Since I am very used to synthesized speech, I listen to it at very fast speeds. Because of this, the voting process did take a little longer for me than for my sighted husband, but I was clearly aware of each choice and which options I had selected. Once I made it through all 23 contests, the machine announced I would be in summary mode, where I could arrow up and down and hear my selections, even change them if I were so inclined. Finally, I am instructed to press the vote button and am told exactly where to find it on the machine. That is that, my ballot was cast and the machine lets me know that it was successfully completed. By the way, at the location where I voted, E-voting was an option for everyone, not just those who needed accessibility. So now, as a visually impaired person, I have nothing holding me back from taking part in the voting process. Eventually, I’d like to see an accessible voting machine for someone who is mobility impaired and unable to press the buttons. But for now, I am very happy that this citizen can vote independently! I urge everyone, if you did not early vote last week, plan to vote tomorrow!!

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