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Blind seek voter independence


BY DANZA JOHNSON    Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

TUPELO - A new voting machine may bring voting independence to blind and other disabled voters in Lee County.

John W. Eads, assistant secretary of state of elections, introduced the Diebold touch screen voting machine to the American Council of the Blind of North Mississippi in Tupelo on Saturday.

Organization President Kenneth Loden was very pleased with the new technology.

"This a tremendous step for the blind when it comes to voting," he said. "If this machine is accepted, it will be the first time that I will be afforded the right vote totally and independently."

In the current system, blind voters have to vote by absentee ballot or someone has to assist them at the polls, which Loden said could be a tricky situation.

"You just have to trust that the person will vote like you tell them to. The current system takes all the privacy out of the vote for the blind and Debold could change that," he said.

The machine gives voice instructions that a person can respond to by pressing buttons on a numbered pad. Because the numbers are arranged like they are on a telephone, it is easy for the voter to respond accurately. Even though more than 5,000 of the new voting machines were ordered for Mississippi, Eads said individual counties must agree to use them.

"Twenty counties have agreed to use the Debold system," said Eads. "It is a uniform voting system that all people will use, not just the blind and disabled. We are providing these machines at no cost to the counties. We are just shooting for a uniform voting system for all citizens."

Lee County has not yet agreed to use the new machines. Because of the Help America Vote Act, the counties that opt not to use them must still provide adequate voting for the disabled. According to Eads, that could be very expensive. For example, if Lee County opts not to use the new machines, it will cost the county $351,000 to comply with HAVA.

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