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Visually impaired report trouble with voting machines that speak
Who is 'Barry Ocamaca'?
Wednesday, Mar 12, 2008 By KIRAN KRISHNAMURTHY

Linda Broady-Myers, who is blind, said she'd never heard of the presidential candidate whose name was verbalized by a computerized Richmond voting machine when she went to vote in last month's primary.

"Barry Ocamaca," she said the machine spit out, presumably for Democratic contender Barack Obama.

"When I heard 'Barry Ocamaca,' I didn't know what primary I was voting in because I wasn't aware that this person was one of the candidates," she said.

Broady-Myers, an advocate for the visually impaired, said she heard from about 75 other voters that week who had similar experiences, mostly with the pronunciation of Obama and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee. She said she complained to city election officials at the polling place but got little help. She later complained to Voter Registrar J. Kirk Showalter, she said, but was told no problem existed.

Glenwood Floyd, who also is blind, said he encountered problems while trying to vote for Obama in the city, too.

"It sounded like 'Barreer Obahkah,' he said yesterday. "I wasn't sure if the computer was locking up. I felt my attempt to vote had been abrogated." Floyd said he was frustrated but did not file a formal complaint because he was suffering from the flu.

Broady-Myers, who told City Council about her concerns Monday night, plans to speak Friday to the city's electoral board, which meets at 2:30 p.m. on the fifth floor of City Hall.

Showalter said yesterday that she was not aware of anyone besides Broady-Myers who had a problem.

"I'm not going to say whether she did or did not hear things correctly," Showalter said. "I'm sorry she had difficulty."

Showalter said her office tested the WinVote voting machines with the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Richmond before buying the machines in 2005. "Is the pronouncement absolutely 100 percent effective? No," Showalter said.

The registrar said yesterday that she had not yet tested the machine to see how it pronounced the names of the candidates in the Feb. 12 primary, nor had she listened to the machines since.

Broady-Myers said accommodations can be made for hard-to-pronounce names, including having a real person record the name of the candidate.

Showalter, who was attending a conference of registrars in Charlottesville yesterday, said that after being contacted by The Times-Dispatch, she asked representatives for several of the approximately 30 localities statewide that use the same system, including Fairfax County, whether they had similar complaints. Only Roanoke County reported an instance, she said. Locally, the system also is used by Caroline, Dinwiddie, Goochland, Henrico and Powhatan counties.

Barbara Cockrell, operations director for the State Board of Elections, said she was not aware of any problems.

"We did not, that I know of, receive any complaints about it on election day," she said. "It would seem like if it was a problem, it would be a widespread problem."

Broady-Myers, a past president of the American Council for the Blind's state and Central Virginia chapters, said, "If one person's voting rights have been violated, that's one too many." She also chairs the elderly and disabled advisory committee of the Richmond Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and is a member of the Greater Richmond Transit Company's board of directors.

Showalter said she did not know how many of the city's nearly 101,000 registered voters use the voice option, which is also available to people who, for whatever reason, cannot read a ballot.

Broady-Myers also took issue with the requirement that people who want to address the electoral board must first write to ask permission. Showalter confirmed the policy yesterday, saying requests to speak could be sent via mail, e-mail or fax.

G. William Thomas Jr., the board's chairman, said he is interested to hear from Broady-Myers and anyone else, especially as officials gear up for the Nov. 4 general election, which features the presidential race, a U.S. Senate contest and, in Richmond, races for mayor and the City Council.

"I'm very interested in any information she might provide us," Thomas said. "We'll make the time."

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