The Importance of Accessible Voting By Rita Thomas Kersh

It’s only about three and a half months until the general elections take place in Lawrence County and one resident is wondering how she’s going to manage to vote Independently and privately if the state only allows absentee ballots to be used due to Covid-19.

That person happens to be me, Rita Kersh, a blind and severely hard of hearing resident of Bedford. I am concerned not only about having to use a paper ballot, but that even if polling sites are open I’ll struggle to hear the candidate’s names on the accessible machine.

The speech program on accessible voting machines is so poor that I cannot understand the names and have to really concentrate on who the individual might be. In the past my dad would get the ballot from the newspaper and read the list of candidates to me so I’d have an idea of who was running, but it was difficult trying to remember all those names and offices by the time I got to the polls.

I have talked to Billie Tumey, Lawrence County Clerk, about my issues with both the accessible voting machine and paper ballots. Billie agreed that the speech program on the accessible machine is very hard to understand. She e-mailed sample ballots to me to see if I could mark them, but since the sample ballots were PDF files, they couldn’t be marked.

Suggestions were made to adapt the ballot so that they would have check boxes and edit fields like a web form has. Billie spoke to the vender Lawrence County uses to see if this might be possible. The vendor told her any changes would have to be approved by the state first.

Several states including Indiana have electronic voting for military and citizens who live out of the country, but it hasn’t been available to citizens with disabilities. Billie asked the vendor about this option and the answer was no, people with disabilities cannot use online voting.

The use of electronic voting isn’t a sure thing for everyone, especially people with disabilities who do not use computers or Smart Phones, but since the upcoming election is a very important one this year, we need a secure method to cast our votes without having to involve others. That would take away our right to vote privately and independently.

For me, the perfect way to vote would be on my own computer, which has a speech program I can easily understand. The ballot would be sent as an e-mail attachment in a format that allows me to mark my choices with check boxes. I could then review it audibly, print it out, scan it with my audible scanning program, then mail it in the specified envelope provided.

This method would potentially be more secure than voting through a website, which according to Homeland Security and other government agencies would be too insecure and easily hacked.

Not everyone can use my preferred method for voting, but is this a step in the right direction? I believe there should be high tech and low tech options for people with disabilities when it comes to absentee or remote voting. Wouldn’t it be nice to use a push button phone or Smart phone to make selections?

It would be wonderful if a system could be put in place for this year’s general elections so I could vote comfortably and independently.