Last week, I was able to use an accessible voting machine for the first time in order to vote in the upcoming primary election. I had first learned about these machines in November when I voted in a local election, however the polling staff had assumed that I preferred to have my mom help me with voting and did not offer the machine to me. After that experience, I made sure to take advantage of the accessible voting machines for this election, and was able to vote for my favorite candidate easier than ever before. Here is how I use accessible voting machines with low vision, and why they are better than having human assistance.
What are accessible voting machines?
An accessible voting machine is an electronic tool that allows users with disabilities to vote using assistive technology. While they are primarily used for people with visual impairments, they can also be used by people who are unable to mark a traditional ballot by themselves due to physical or neurological disability. Accessible voting machines are available at all polling places and for all types of elections, so users do not need to travel to a special polling place to use them.
Other names for accessible voting machines
Some of the other names that I have heard for accessible voting machines include:
- ADA voting machines
- Disability voting machine
- Electronic voting machine
- Voting machine for the blind
- Large print ballot machine
Why I prefer using machines over having human assistance
While some people prefer to have people help them cast their vote at polling places, I prefer to use the accessible voting machines for the following reasons:
- I want to exercise my right to cast my vote in private and not share my choices for who I am voting for with others
- I can't use my phone as a magnifying aid at the polling place as that is illegal, and the magnification sheet at the polling station does not magnify the ballot enough for me to be able to see it
- I feel comfortable using technology and use it in my day-to-day life, so I feel comfortable using the accessible voting machines
- I want to ensure my ballot is not tampered with and that no one tries to talk me out of voting for a particular candidate
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Why I vote absentee
In the past, I have always voted in advance using an absentee ballot as I attend college outside of my locality of residence and am unable to vote in person on Election Day. Users can also vote absentee solely based on the fact that they have a disability, with no other supporting documentation needed- for Virginia residents, this is option 2A.
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What to bring to the polls
As expected, people who wish to vote will need to bring some form of government issued identification, though they may also need a proof of disability in order to use the accessible voting machines, depending on where they live. Since I wear shaded glasses and use a blindness cane, I did not need a written proof of disability, but one of my friends who does not use any mobility aids said that they showed an all-purpose letter from their eye doctor that confirmed that they have low vision, and another friend stated that they have a case with the state department for vision impairment. Both friends were able to use the accessible voting machine.
Another helpful item to bring to the polls when voting with the accessible voting machines is a pair of wired headphones to plug into the machine, as these may be more comfortable to wear.
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How to request an accessible voting machine
One would think that showing up to the polls with tinted glasses and a blindness cane would mean that the staff would automatically offer the option to use the accessible voting machine, but this was not the case for me. In fact, I was told that the staff cannot offer to let me use the machine and that I have to be the one to request it, because they don't want to assume my access needs or make me feel like using the machine is the only way I can cast a vote.
When showing my ID, I stated that I wanted to use the accessible voting machine since I am visually impaired, and another staff member then assisted me with setting up my machine and ensuring I knew how to use it. The person stayed with me as I cast my vote but did not look at the screen and instead stepped to the side.
Voting machine interface
After inserting the ballot, users are taken to a screen that shows a list of the candidates, which appears in the same order as the printed ballot. From there, users can scroll through the list and select their candidate by tapping or clicking the select button on the keypad. Users are unable to go back and change their vote once they have selected an option and moved away from that section of the ballot.
The machine itself uses a touch screen and external keypad so that users can interact with the device. Users can also plug in a pair of headphones so that the information is read out loud.
Visual accessibility options for the accessible voting machines include:
- High contrast settings- choose a light background with dark text or a dark background with light text
- Zoom/increase font size
- Tactile labels that show directions on how to use the machine
I chose to use the touchscreen display in order to cast my vote, though people who use screen readers would benefit from the external audio-tactile keypad.
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After I finished with the machine, my ballot was specially marked and I walked with assistance to the ballot counter machine. I was able to insert the ballot by myself and ensure that my vote had been correctly counted for the election. This was fairly easy to do, as there are tactile guides on the machine showing where the ballot should be inserted.
I'm glad that I was able to use an accessible voting machine to vote in this election, and I found the experience to be easy and painless. While I recommend that everyone go out and vote for their favorite candidate, I highly recommend that people with visual impairments take advantage of these machines and the opportunity to cast their vote in privacy and without worrying that their vote will be altered.