Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting Machine
by Empish J. Thomas
As an African-American who grew up with parents who lived under segregation, I have known and understood the importance and power of the right to vote. My dad, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, would constantly tell me that when I grew up to always have handy a copy of my government ID, library card, and voter’s registration card. He always stressed the importance of having those three things in my purse. Today, I am a 45-year-old living in Atlanta with vision loss, and guess what I have in my purse? You got it; my government ID, my library card, and my voter’s registration card. All with braille labels on them of course! The right and ability to vote is something that is very dear to me, and I don’t take lightly. As my parents would always remind me "People fought and died so that you could have the rights that you have."
Participating in Demonstration of Accessible Voting Machine
When I first went blind some 20 years ago, I struggled with the fact that a sighted person had to read my ballot and make my selections. At the time I was not proficient in braille and not fully aware of the various options for blind and visually impaired voters. As the years passed, I began to hear about the accessible voting machines. One day I read an announcement that a demonstration of the machine was going to be held at my local vision rehabilitation center. I was very excited and took Paratransit there to educate myself and learn how to use the machine. I found it to be very simple and easy to use. I placed the headset on and listened to my candidate options. There was a keypad, very similar to a telephone keypad, with a bump dot on the number five key. That keypad is what you use to make your choices for the various candidates. When you get to the amendments to a bill or pieces of legislation, they are read out to you. Then you just press a number that corresponds to either "yes" or "no". Once you are finished, you can review your ballot and then press the submit button. Once I experienced this demo, I was hooked! So for the next several elections I went to my precinct to use the accessible machine and that is when the challenges began.
My Voting Experiences in My Precinct
I honestly thought it would be easy to vote as a blind person after experiencing that demo, but I was sadly mistaken. I remember when I went to my local precinct and the accessible machine was still in the box. As I mentioned in the blog post I wrote at that time, I used my advocacy skills to gently but firmly inform the poll workers that they needed to remove the machine out of the box and set it up and that I would be patient and wait. I refused to vote any other way. This was done and I voted. Another time the machine had technical difficulties and a poll worker had to start and restart the machine. Again, I was patient and cast my ballot. But in the last presidential election, it took three tries before my ballot was cast. I was incredibly frustrated and so was the poll worker who was assisting me. At this point I had to figure out another plan of action.
Taking the Next Step: Advocacy
The experience with the accessible voting machine at my local precinct was not going well, but I refused to stop using the machine. During these incidents I had filed complaints with the Secretary of State’s Office using my advocacy skills. During one of my complaints a representative actually came to my home for a follow up to get a verbal statement. She was very concerned about what I shared in my e-mail complaint. She wanted me to know that the State of Georgia was trying hard to improve upon their accessibility efforts for blind and visually impaired voters. I was very glad to hear that. But since my local precinct was not always reliable, I made an executive decision. This year’s presidential election I was going to vote at the election headquarters, and I was going to vote early! I felt this particular election was way too important to mess around with faulty equipment. I wanted to be sure that my vote was counted along with everyone else's.
My Voting Experience During this Election
So, early in the morning on October 29th, I took Paratransit and went to vote early. I went to the Voter Registration and Elections Office. When I came in the poll area, workers assisted me in filling out my paperwork and checking my government ID. No voter’s registration card was needed (my dad would be surprised if he was there). Then they guided me over to a booth and gave me a chair in which to sit. A poll worker began to explain how the machine worked, but I quickly told her that I was already familiar and thanks anyway. This location was not very crowded and I finished pretty quickly. Now, the best thing of all! I had no problems with the accessible voting machine! I successfully cast my ballot and voted for my candidates.
Tell Us Your Experiences
It’s time to vote! As a person with vision loss, are you familiar with your rights and ability to vote independently with the accessible voting machine? Have you used the machine before? If so, what was the experience like? Have you ever had to file a complaint for the machine not working properly? If so, what was the result? Share your voting stories in the comments below as we get ready for this next presidential election.
Read up on Voting
Mary Hiland describes her experience with early voting
Find out about voting laws. Read the latest Research Navigator on Counting and Being Counted
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Quietwater on 11/2/2016 at 12:57 PM
I too stubbornly refuse to leave until my vote is cast. Once it took summoning the County clerk to get the voting machine running. Another time, the poll workers were excited that they had the machine setup and ready when I arrived only to be disappointed because they had loaded the wrong ballot. I was a democrat and they had prepared the Republican primary ballot. I will be going to a new poll this time after my move to our aging in place new home last summer. Hopefully, it will go smoothly. I have decided that if it doesn't, I will volunteer next election to be a poll worker and get trained on the accessible voting machine so that I will be prepared in future. Where there is a will to make a difference, there is always a way. Sometimes it just takes thinking outside the box. Whatever your views, vote!
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Bas1710 on 11/3/2016 at 9:34 AM
Loved your post! It made me think of the first time I used an adapted voting machine. My husband and I arrived at the poll area which was the township garage and the usual voting booths were gone and instead a computer was set up with all the accessible features. He voted first and then it was my turn. The workers got out the headset and let me figure out the buttons and read my ballot. It was more time consuming than I thought-being a longer ballot this time as well as the learning curve. When I was done (very absorbed in my task) the poll worker told my husband "not to worry about it". I asked what he meant and he said there was a long line out the door as it took me about 40 minutes and they replaced the booths with only one computer. Apparently there were some very impatient and upset people waiting to vote. This bothered me for quite a while and I mentioned something the next time I went to vote. The person (always the same gentleman) said everyone had a right to vote and that if they were in a hurry there was always paper ballots they could have cast and then left. I didn't let it bother me after that and was glad to see though there were 6 stations set up with 2 being accessible!
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Empish on 11/3/2016 at 10:08 AM
What an excellent idea! I didn’t think of that but I am glad that you mentioned it. Volunteering aas a poll worker is a wonderful thing to do. Not just to give of your time but to be sure that machine is working. Good luck on that for the next election.
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Empish on 11/3/2016 at 10:09 AM
That is interesting that sso few machines were available at your precinct. Usually there are several to keep the lines down. But yes, it does take more time to vote when using the accessible machine. This time around I requested a chair to sit because in the past I would stand and then my back and feet would start to hurt.
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by cseeds on 11/8/2016 at 11:06 PM
It was great reading about your voting experience, but I would love to know more!
I’m a graduate student in design at the University of Washington and am doing research on the voting experience of people with vision impairments. The goal of this study is to get a better understanding of the voting experience for people with vision impairments across the United States. The voting experience varies greatly around the US, and this research will consolidate those experiences so changes can be proposed for future elections.
It would be wonderful to talk more with you and possibly from other members of the site.
Thanks so much
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Quietwater on 11/10/2016 at 6:03 PM
Empish, Well, there was a long line at my new poll. There was only one electronic voting machine and each voter was asked if they wanted a paper ballot or to vote electronically. If they said electronically, then they were handed a narrow strip of card. If they said paper, they got a ballot. My husband used the machine first and when he was finished he moved aside, and the poll worker seemed startled that I wanted to vote. She asked my husband if she wanted to vote? I answered her by saying of course. She was flustered and found the earphones and then started the ballot for me by choosing audio version on the touch screen. She was nervous. It went smoothly after that even though the machine was different from those I have used in the past. It had a vote button at the top of the screen and up and down arrows and a select button at the bottom. There was also a volume button which were all brailled. That was lucky as the worker didn't even mention it. It was slow and it made me wait each time to listen to all of the choices. Then it read me the selections again and the last one was five write in slots and it insisted I hadn't voted all of the 24 separate ballot issues because I didn't fill in a write in candidate. Oh well, I hope that was the reason it said I hadn't voted the complete ballot. Then it finally printed my ballot and I was done. Other machines I have used had a separate key pad similar to a phone dialing pad. This machine was pretty compact and seemed to have fewer areas where a poll worker had to do something. If it hadn't been for the slight assumption that I was only there to push my husband's wheelchair, it would have been a good experience. Like Trina, several people exchanged their tickets for the electronic voting machine rather than wait for me to vote. I didn't feel guilty, it was the County Clerk's problem if she didn't have enough accessible machines to allow more people to vote using machines who would have done it that way. Curtis said about four people handed their tickets in to get paper ballots instead of waiting for me.
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by Empish on 11/10/2016 at 6:36 PM
Wow, Deanna, what an experience. But I amglad that you advocated for yourself and pushed through to use the accessible machine. Maybe the one you used was a upgraded model? I have not seen one with braille on it. It sounds very different; as I have always used the one with the telephone-type keypad. But I agree you are right in that they needed more machines. But I am glad that you voted.
Re: Feel the Power of the Disability Vote By Using the Accessible Voting MachinePosted by CarlaAnneErnst on 11/10/2016 at 7:38 PM
Great post as always Empish. Since I last posted, slipped on some leaves and broke my ankle, thus I am completely immobilized in a cast for six weeks, with instructions for no weight on my ankle. But I have a team of home health people that are helping me. This is very isolating being blind, which is still new for me, now going on about six months. Regardless, a medical van got me to the voting booth in my wheelchair where I was left in the lobby. Eventually, a volunteer who happened to be a retired RN got me in and through to a Braille voting machine. I don't want to reveal who I voted for, but my woman didn't win. I guess I didn't vote hard enough. It's hard enough to be a new blind woman, but I have to say having a broken ankle really makes it difficult!
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