Next month’s general election will be historic for tens of thousands of Iowans who are blind or visually-impaired.
For the first time, every single polling place in Iowa will have at least one voting machine that’s fully accessible to the blind. Michael Barber, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, says it’s a tremendous landmark. “Well, forever, as far as that goes, we have not had the privilege of casting a completely secret ballot. Someone always had to be there to mark the ballot and so forth,” says Barber, who is blind. “We’re just really very, very pleased.”
He says the special voting machines are fully automated and are equipped with headphones and large arrow-shaped keys to aid blind voters as they cast their ballots. “We take our ballot and insert it into the accessible machine and then the machine speaks and says ‘The ballot has been inserted’ and each contest is verbally read by the machine and you make your choice, use the arrow keys to make the next choice, and so forth,” Barberg says.
The voting machines were purchased with federal funds as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Barber says at least 57,000 Iowans are blind so those of voting age will be able to participate in the vote on November 7th for the first time without assistance.
Barber, who’s been blind since birth, says for him, there’s never before been a “secret” ballot.