By: Adam Hinchliffe
Tomorrow’s the big day, Georgia! While many of you may have voted early for this current election and have already encountered the new accessibility features at the polls, many have not; preferring to vote on election day itself. This blog describes the new process of casting a ballot in Georgia and what to do if you run into accessibility issues while voting.
Last Fall, state election officials replaced the previous touch-screen machines with new, ballot-marking devices complete with built-in accessibility features including synthetic speech output and the ability to adjust the screen to meet individual visual preferences. A major change from previous elections is the ability to print out the completed ballot for review before inserting it into a scanner that records the ballot as cast.
In preparation for the upcoming election, state officials brought together stakeholders who face accessibility issues when voting to discuss and resolve any issues with the new machines. One topic of discussion was finding a way for voters who are visually impaired to independently verify the printed text at every polling location. The best way for those individuals to do that is by using screen reading technology. Typically, voters are not allowed to have their cell phones out while voting. This group was working on identifying a solution that would address this when in person meetings has to be stopped due to COVID-19.
As a temporary work-around, the state elections board passed a rule allowing the use of personal screen readers commonly found on smart phones to verify the summary text on the ballot. In addition, voters with a disability and in need of assistance are allowed to have a family member or friend inside the booth with them to help navigate the machine and verify the printed ballot.
Once the pandemic eases, the elections office will resume efforts to find a permanent solution to this outstanding issue which may involve broadening the effort to include other aspects of the voting process that are not yet accessible, such as absentee mail-in voting.
Any voter with a disability who has questions or needs to report accessibility concerns at the polls should contact their county elections office or the Georgia Secretary of State at 1-844-753-7825. It is very important to report any accessibility problems encountered at the polls to state and local officials immediately.
May your trip to the polls be a good one this year!