A comment to my Tuesday blog post from a young woman named Sandra gave me the idea to write this post about voting. Sandra is blind, and she had some questions — not about who to vote for, but literally how to vote.
…have you (or any other readers of this blog) ever used the touch screen machines with audio output? If so, are they accessible? This is my first time voting, so that’s why I’m curious.
I used the touch screen machine with audio output during the primary earlier this year, and it worked fine – very accessible. With sound added to the ballot, I put on headphones, listened to the choices, and punched a button on a special contraption connected to the keyboard. All by myself.
The contraption comes with a “help” button that explains aloud how it works, it’s not exactly intuitive but after just a few tries I got the hang of it. The biggest glitch in audio voting comes right at the beginning, when you sign in. Sandra should expect the poll workers to scramble; they don’t get many voters with visual impairments and may not know what to do with her. My experience is that they want to do right by us but feel a bit awkward.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) set up a toll-free hotline (877-632-1940) to help blind voters if they experience any problems at the polling places this Tuesday. Voting specialists answering this number are supposed to help the blind voter and/or the poll worker resolve the issue.
I hate to think this, but I have a feeling that hotline will be busy on Tuesday. A sighted friend of mine voted early today, and He told me that a man who is blind was there in line with him. When it was the blind guy’s turn to vote, one of the poll workers read every choice out loud to him. “Maybe there were talking machines there, but for some reason the poll worker helped him on a regular machine,” my friend told me. “I thought I read that all the polling places were supposed to be accessible.”
He read that right. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires “voting systems” to provide independent and private voting for all voters — including citizens who are blind or visually impaired.
My friend’s experience this morning tells me these machines might not always work! If something like this happens on Tuesday, and a blind voter can’t vote independently and privately, NFB says the voting specialists on their hotline will record details. “Information from situations that cannot be resolved during a phone call to the hotline will be referred to the proper authorities for follow-up action.”
The hotline is only running on November 4. For that — and many other reasons — I decided against early voting this year. I’ll spend my time in line on Tuesday memorizing the hotline number. With any luck, by the time I get to the talking voting machine, there’ll be no reason to make a call!