Disabled voters in Northern California tried out a variety of accessible voting devices recently, according to this article by John Wildermuth in last Friday's San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpts are featured below.
Jerry Daniels cast fake votes in a phony election Thursday and was delighted to have the chance.
"This is the first time I've used a voting machine in eight or 10 years, and it just feels great," said Daniels, a Santa Rosa man who's legally blind.
Daniels was joined by about two dozen other disabled voters as Sonoma County asked three voting-machine companies to demonstrate how their systems make it possible for people with physical and mental disabilities to cast ballots.
Beginning in June, disabled voters in California will have that access. Under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, every polling place in the nation must have at least one accessible voting booth by this year.
California counties, which also face new state laws requiring all touch-screen voting machines to provide a way for voters to verify that their ballots have been tallied correctly, are scrambling to find and purchase the new voting machines for the June 6 primary.
"We're going to have to buy machines for 335 precincts," said Janice Atkinson, assistant registrar of voters in Sonoma County. "But before we do, our goal was to get as many people (with disabilities) here as possible."
The county wanted to watch how the machines worked with people with different types of disabilities: the blind, the deaf, the physically disabled and those with other impairments.
"I've voted absentee for years," Daniels said. "They'd send me a ballot, and I'd have someone come over and read the ballot to me. Now I'll be able to do this myself, and (the polling place) is even close enough that I can walk."
The voting machines are designed to assist people with a wide range of disabilities and can be programmed for people who speak a language other than English.
While the new voting machines are an important start, they won't solve all the problems disabled voters face in casting a ballot.
Roy Rauschkolb of Cotati has voted absentee since an automobile accident 4 1/2 years ago left him confined to a wheelchair. Having voting machines that come down to his level and are easy to use are only part of the answer, he said.
"It only takes a lip of one or two inches to make a voting place inaccessible," he said. "People don't realize that a doorway an inch or two narrower or a slight slant of the floor can keep me out.
"These are things I deal with every day."