As people transition from school-aged young people to adults, more responsibilities are obtained. We may move into our own home, learn additional daily living skills, or pursue additional education. We also have the chance to express our views by voting in local, state and national elections. By expressing our views, we help to shape our community, state and country for the next several years. Voting with a visual impairment has recently become easier and much more private.
I turned 18 years old in 2001, and immediately registered to vote. At that time, ballots were not accessible. There were three possible ways to cast a vote: I could go into the voting booth with a trusted relative/friend and whisper my answers; Request assistance from election officials to complete the ballot; or vote absentee from the privacy of my own home. Generally, I chose to use an absentee ballot, but this option required me to request a ballot several weeks in advance to ensure I had time to complete and submit it before the election.
Accessible Voting for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Although these options are still available, voting became much more private for visually impaired residents of Massachusetts in 2007 with the implementation of the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal. This talking voting machine allows a person to insert their ballot, use headphones provided by the election official, and cast their vote. The machine contains a screen which can greatly magnify the ballot or be turned off for a more private vote. The keys on the machine, which are equipped with Braille labels, allow for navigation between the names of people running for each contest. Other keys allow for the selection of a candidate or permit the voter to continue to the next contest without making a selection.
I have used the AutoMARK machine three times and am very impressed. Although I am not required to notify the town that I am planning to vote, I often will call or e-mail the town clerk’s office before the election to confirm the machine will be available. I also take time before the election to study the candidate’s positions on issues so I am prepared to make a selection. Each time I’ve used the machine, election officials are welcoming, never rush me through the process, and are glad to answer any questions I pose. The machine’s voice is clear, and the volume can be easily adjusted.
The AutoMARK is just one of several accessible voting machines used around the country. As the election process continues, I hope you will have the chance to privately and independently cast a vote for your favorite candidate. For me, voting without sighted assistance is a truly special and humbling experience.