Here's how you vote when you can't see the ballot

March 16, 2016 • Posted in blindness, Mike Knezovich, politics, technology for people who are blind, Uncategorized, Whitney by

I Voted Today stickerI’d researched the issues. I’d studied the candidates. It was a primary election, not a general one. Voting yesterday should have been a breeze.

And you know what? It was! I voted on my own in the Illinois primary election yesterday!

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandated that voting systems provide some way for people to vote independently and privately (including those of us with disabilities), but if you’ve been following our Safe & Sound blog for a while, you know there have been many, many elections since 2002 where that hasn’t been the case for me (and probably not for others, either). I cried on election day, 2012. Not because my candidate lost — he won. I just wasn’t able to vote for him by myself.

Here’s what happened that year: Mike and I showed up together at the polling place, and while he went to a booth to vote, I waited and listened to the poll workers scramble. “Where are the headphones?” “Anyone know how you make that computer talk?” “How do you turn it on?” “Why isn’t there any sound?” “How’s it supposed to work?” They seemed to want to do right by me, but few of them knew what “right” was.

Mike finished voting. I was still standing there. In the end, he signed an affidavit, guided my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and me to a traditional voting booth where he read the choices out loud and had me tell him (and anyone else near enough to eavesdrop) who I wanted to vote for.

But not yesterday. Mike had an errand to run, so I showed up at our precinct alone with Whitney. Poll workers seemed sincerely happy to see us, they helped me fill out a paper form to register, and after I used a straight-edge to sign on the dotted line, one of the poll workers showed us to a computer.

“You know how to work these?” the poll worker asked, placing a special handheld contraption the size of a cell phone in my hand. I nodded yes (I’d attended a special class free-of-charge earlier at the Chicago Public Library to be introduced to this technology) and put headphones on. Tactile buttons on the contraption allowed me to take my time, scroll through the ballot, mark my choices, and…abracadabra! I voted.

All. By. Myself.

A small thing for some, but huge for me. A lot was riding on yesterday’s vote, and I felt privileged –and proud – to have a part in making those important decisions.

Now, bring on those presidential elections in November!

piwright04gmailcom On March 16, 2016 at 9:03 am

Stoked to hear that this actually WORKED this time Beth. You hear ridiculous stories (yours and others) about the lack of accommodations for voting. We can do better – and apparently this time we did!

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:09 am

You are so right, I am not the only American who has had trouble voting independently, there’s still work to be done in that arena, but you are also right to point out it’s getting better!

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jim On March 16, 2016 at 9:10 am

very interesting to read how you vote when you can not see the ballot. Any ideas on how to vote when you can not see beyond the ballot?

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:09 am

Oh, I leave that sort of thing to Mondays with Mike.

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Mary Rayis On March 16, 2016 at 9:15 am

A lot of people who don’t have to go through as much as you do don’t even bother to vote, Beth. You should be proud of yourself!

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

I am. Pleased, too.

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Sheila A. Donovan On March 16, 2016 at 9:30 am

So happy for you, Beth! Proud of you for getting out there while others are lazy about their voting rights.

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:11 am

It surprises me, really, the high percentage of Americans who don’t vote.

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DJ Mermaid On March 16, 2016 at 9:30 am

Nice job ! You are AMAZING Beth!

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:13 am

I can’t wait to vote for you when you run for president, DJ Mermaid. You are the amazing one, and “President Mermaid” has a nice ring to it.

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DJ Mermaid On March 21, 2016 at 6:31 pm

OMG! Thanks Beth!

bethfinke On March 22, 2016 at 8:52 am

You are welcome, President Mermaid.

Lois Baron On March 16, 2016 at 9:43 am

Congratulations! So important. Lois

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:18 am

You know, it really is important. For example, last night’s Democratic presidential primary in Illinois ended up with just a 1% difference between the two candidates. I’m glad I voted.

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Mel Theobald On March 16, 2016 at 10:32 am

Bravo Beth. How wonderful it would be if everyone followed your example.

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:22 am

Thanks, Mel. Hope maybe someone somewhere imight get inspired by my story and vote in the general election this fall? I’ll tell you, I was walking on air after I voted yesterday — it’s a great feeling to participate, to vote and be counted. Perhaps if some who don’t vote now gave it a try they’d see what I mean.

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Bethsclasses On March 16, 2016 at 10:36 am

Good going. You are amazing.

bethfinke On March 16, 2016 at 11:24 am

Well, I’m not that amazing, really. The hero in this story is the technology. It actually worked — amazing!

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Benita Black On March 17, 2016 at 10:53 am

Does the techno-voice read your selection back to you? Do you know if this technology is available in languages besides English?

bethfinke On March 17, 2016 at 11:04 am

When the sound came on, it said I had an option to hear it in Spanish, Polish and (I think) Mandarin — I knew I wanted English so I didn’t listen hard for all the other choices there. And yes, I had the opportunity to review my choices, and at the very, very end I had an option to listen to them all again to make sure. It really worked well this time, and the race in Illinois was very close, so I’m glad I was able to vote…independently!

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Annelore Chapin On March 17, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Hurray!!!! I got the chills reading about your last two voting experiences, Beth! And it feels good to know that sometimes things do change for the better. Yeah! And thanks for voting (as I am still out of the country
Annelore

bethfinke On March 18, 2016 at 8:38 pm

You are welcome. Just wish I could have voted for *you* too, while you ere gone!

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glivingston On March 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Congratulations Beth! So glad you did.

bethfinke On March 21, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Me, too!

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Deborah Darsie On April 29, 2016 at 1:02 am

Hurray! After a mere 14 years the stars, equipment and training ALL aligned for independent voting.

Thanks for sharing your journeys through the forest of tasks and I know I often don’t appreciate the ease with which I can navigate them.

bethfinke On April 29, 2016 at 8:53 am

You are very welcome. Thank you for listening — and caring.

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