The right to vote

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Voting machines give sense of independence

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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It seems we are now a society that is becoming more aware of the importance of visually impaired or physically handicapped people.

Because of certain accommodations, even laws that have been passed, this large group of the population has been more inclusive in the activities able people do without consideration.

But handicapped people were still limited in one of the simplest acts there is – voting.

That all changed Tuesday at the polls in Dallas County.

For the first time, local disabled citizens were able to vote with complete independence because of the AutoMARK voter assist terminal.

“When I turned 18, I registered to vote just like all the other young folks,” said William Bowman. Bowman is the chairman and CEO of the Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) Organization and is partially blind. “I’ve never seen a polling booth fully accessible for someone with a sight impairment. I’ve always had to have someone go with me to make the choices I told them to. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind if someone was telling me the truth or if they were voting the way they wanted to. I was not able to see the print on the ballot, and I was not able to see the voting machine.”

Bowman got to take the machine for a test run last Thursday.

For visually impaired voters, the machine enlarges the letters and allows them to see the black writing on the ballot on a white background. It reads the entire ballot through a set of headphones and also reads back the choices they make.

Each choice is highlighted with a different color, and voters can touch their selections with their fingers.

For handicapped people, Bowman said there is a way to use the ballot with a straw, much like the ones they would use to maneuver their powered wheelchairs.

AutoMARK machines were to have been made available in all 31 voting precincts throughout the county Tuesday.

The value of such machines is they not only protect the privacy of each individual, but they also allow handicapped people to do one more thing independently.

“When you have the feeling of independence, you feel better as a citizen,” Bowman said. “You feel better about your overall self. You leave the polls without feeling you’ve been an inconvenience to somebody. If you do a poll of everyone in America, you’ll find what’s important to most all of them is independence.”