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What Are You Doing Behind That Curtain?

Let me assure you at the outset that this is not a blog about politics. I’m not commenting on the election or results. Instead, I’m going to look at what goes on behind the curtain when you’re trying to vote as a blind person.

Traditionally, whether you were using an old-fashioned paper ballot or a voting machine, you had to have at least one person accompany you into the voting booth to assist. I grew up in a part of the country where I don’t remember so much as a whisper of election fraud. I’m not sure whether we were more virtuous or more innocent, but it was never an issue. So, in my first election, I simply went into the booth with my father. I’m pretty certain he voted for everyone I was against and vice versa. I think he pulled the lever for all the candidates I wanted but I’m not entirely sure. I know that, at age twenty-one, he was reasonably certain I didn’t have enough sense to vote the “right” way.

By the time of the next Presidential election, I had moved out of state. Things were not nearly as informal this time. Although I had moved to the Bible Belt, poll workers greeted me as though I were wearing a sign saying, “I’m going to engage in election fraud.” Each party insisted on having a representative go into the booth with me. It was flattering to be the only voter with my own entourage, but it was more than a little crowded in there.

And forget about having a “secret ballot when every decision requires a three-way discussion behind the curtain. There was so little privacy that I fully expected to receive a round of applause from my party’s supporters when I stepped out of the booth. Instead, I got a lot of dirty looks and a few hisses from the other guys.

After that, I simply voted absentee. It’s a lot easier but still far from private.

In 2002, everything changed with the passage of the Help America Vote Act. Its purpose was to enable all Americans to vote with privacy, something that had just become technically and fiscally possible. Accessible voting machines are now pretty much available in all but thinly populated communities. They look like any other voting machine, except that they have a headset attached.

Once you are in the booth, all you need to do is press a button to get a set of spoken instructions through the headset. From then on, it’s just a matter of working your way through a series of simple menus to vote for your favorite (or vote against your least favorite) candidate. Constitutional amendments and referenda are read in their entirety, and then you are presented with the option to vote “yes” or “no.”

There is one small catch. The State’s website, designed to inform voters about the voting process, devotes considerable space and attention to publicizing “accessible voting.” Unfortunately, the only thing that is talked about are the glories of touch-screen voting. Oh, well, that’ll all be corrected when my candidates get into office.

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