If there has been any silver lining to this pandemic, it would be that technology, which has existed for a good while now, is being used to its fullest potential. We all know this, with unending, some would say tiring Zoom meetings, schools that have been forced to shift online and alter their educational plan, and the like. The outcome for people with disabilities has been mixed, as while there are many instances of it helping us to gain access to events we would otherwise have had to miss, there are also times, and especially in education, when such tech can create significant barriers.
But I’m not really going into all that here. I wanted to note and hopefully have everyone consider the merits of an experiment here in NC that allowed those of us who are blind or low vision to conduct what is often said to be a basic civic task: that of voting. As this virus stretched on and on toward Election Day, I became increasingly concerned with just how I would conduct this activity. I didn’t want to deal with the myriad issues with absentee mail-in ballots, not to mention that I would not be able to complete one accessibly. I certainly trust my wife to fill out my form as I request, but isn’t that beside the point? Aren’t I entitled to an independent, private vote wherein I can select whichever candidates I wish no matter how others might feel about them?
Well of course there’s always in-person early or Election Day voting at your local polling place. I’ve done it six times with the auto mark machines, talking devices into which you feed your ballot and can then navigate with the arrows to make your selections. (Only once on the actual Election Day, and I vow never to do that again as the lines are too long and the people a bit out there!) But I just wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable going in there even for the, hopefully short, time it would take. So my most likely choice was going to be to have my wife fill it out at curbside.
Until I heard via our local news leader WRAL that a different option was available specifically to those who are blind: accessible online ballots. These ballots could be requested (unfortunately the deadline to do so passed yesterday) and completed entirely without the need for paper. So this past weekend, I put my request in, got the email back, and kept getting “Voter Not Found”. And into the bureaucracy we go! I fired an e-ail to the Wake County Board of Elections explaining my difficulty, and an I identified person wrote back that their attempt to enter my information netted a successful find and that I should try a different browser. Turns out though that the culprit was my ID number, which I had not needed to enter on the ballot itself but was for some reason required when I submitted the request. I only needed the last 4 digits of my social security number. I hadn’t thought I would have provided my ID when registering, but keeping all that government stuff straight is complicated.
So last night, I managed to log in and asked my wife to be the witness, as required. Only I had another would-be witness, in the body of a pesky 4-legged friend who always demands pets when I seat myself on the couch. I tried to tell her that daddy needed to work, but she didn’t understand, finally parking herself at my foot in the vain hopes that I might remember her and interact eventually.
That craziness aside, the process went mostly smoothly after that. I did wonder why they used checkboxes instead of radio buttons when we were to vote for only one option? There were 35 selections in total, and once I completed my choices I type-signed it and my wife filled out the witness form. And that was it! I voted in my pajamas from the couch. That’s a winning strategy in my opinion.
Seriously though, it could actually help those who are deafblind, as many who cannot perceive audio are also unable to vote independently. I think the auto mark does have some kind of Braille display, but I’ve never seen it work other than to say “Ready,” or something to that effect. Having the ability to set up one’s equipment how one truly needs it would be a huge benefit not only to us but to those with other things going on as well. I know of course that voting online introduces possible security issues, but really there are security issues no matter how you slice it. As with everything, we just have to put in what safeguards we can and allow the system to truly work for the people it is intended to serve and empower.