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New voting machines to help disabled people cast ballots

'Puff/sip' hose, braille lettering among features

By Bill E. Wambeke

American News Writer    25 March 2005

Those with disabilities in South Dakota and across the nation will get some help in the election booth thanks to a new handicap-friendly voting machine.

Because of the Help America Vote Act, all voting precincts throughout the United States must have the special voting machines available for handicapped voters by the 2006 election.

The machines will be put to the test for the first time in South Dakota during the June 2006 election.

Mike Hoversten, regional sales manager for Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., presented the Automark machine to area voters Thursday at the Brown County Courthouse.

The machine allows handicapped voters to vote independently, often times without the aid of a poll worker.

Disabled voters slide a ballot into the machine, which scans the bar code to ensure of the ballot's authenticity. The machine uses a touch screen so voters don't have to pencil in their vote. At the end of voting, the machine fills in the votes and prints out the ballot.

"Any kind of handicapped person should be able to use it," said Brown County Auditor Maxine Taylor.

She added, "People with sight problems don't want others to know what they voted for, so previously they didn't vote."

Features: The machine comes with numerous features: English and Spanish language screens, zoom feature, high and low contrast screens, voice guidance, variable voice speeds and volume, keypad, and braille lettering on the keypad.

Even those with motor function handicaps can vote through a "puff/sip" hose that voters blow into to different options. There's also a paddle system that sits on a person's lap that voters tap their thighs on. Both devices plug into the machine.

"The machine is designed for most voters to vote independently," Hoversten said.

Poll workers can assist individuals if they have a problem while voting with the machine, but the workers can't make a ion for them.

According to Taylor, the South Dakota Secretary of State's Office ed the Automark machine that will be used in all counties and precincts in the state. The county will purchase 23 machines at a cost of roughly $5,000 each. Taylor said the county has set aside $20,000 for match money for the federal grant that helps pay for the machines.

The optical scan machine that Brown County uses to scan ballots won't process the Automark ballots. This means that a new Central Ballot Tabulator 650 will be bought, but Taylor did not know its price.

Almost 100 people attended the exhibit Thursday to learn about the Automark machine.

"There were some handicapped kids that came in and they were excited that they could do it on their own," Taylor said.

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