Friday, May 11, 2007
Accessible voting machine debuts
Now voters with physical disabilities have a new choice. For the first time, Carlisle voters were given an opportunity to vote at Town Election on May 8 using an AutoMARK balloting machine designed to make voting more accessible for those with low vision or other physical challenges. Town Clerk Charlene Hinton said the half-dozen voters who tried the machine were generally pleased.
Hinton demonstrated how to use the machine that looks something like a cross between a computer and a photocopier. Data can be entered by using the touch screen or keypad, or any combination. The keypad has Braille labels, and instructions are available via headphone, if needed. Hinton noted the robotic voice may take a few moments to get used to. Users can enlarge the text, or reverse the colors to heighten contrast. The machine also has a "sip and puff" feature to allow someone who is paralyzed to vote by controlled breath.
As users step through the ballot, they are reminded if they skipped a question, but one is allowed to skip parts of the ballot, just as one would if voting manually. Write-in candidates can be typed in for any race. After the last question, the screen displays the votes and the user has a chance to go back and correct any mistakes. Once complete, the user indicates acceptance of the ballot and the machine marks a paper copy that looks very similar in size and shape to the regular paper ballot. After being folded in half, it is cranked into Carlisle's old wooden ballot box, to be counted just the same as all the other votes.
Carlisle received the machine at no cost from the state, which will require all towns and cities to offer them to voters, beginning in March of 2008. The special ballots were supplied by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and Hinton said they will be given to Carlisle at no cost for all federal, state, as well as annual Town elections. However, Carlisle will be expected to foot the roughly $1,000 in set-up costs for any Special Town Elections.
The state reviewed different alternatives at length before choosing the AutoMARK machine, Hinton said. One earlier contender output a small paper tape instead of a full-sized ballot. Hinton said that Massachusetts requires all voting machines to provide a "paper trail."
Hinton demonstrated the machine to a few curious voters, and said she plans to offer a training session later for anyone who may be interested in learning to use it. She said the device may be helpful to anyone who has trouble reading the print on the regular paper ballots. They had printed 50 ballots for the machine and could have accommodated many more than used it today.
In the past, Hinton says, handicapped voters have often chosen to vote via absentee ballot at home, even though assistance is always available at the polls for any voter who requests help.
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