Technology removes barriers to casting vote

The Touchscreen allows o the ExpressVote machine to use a finger or a stylus to make selections on the voting interface, which is sensitive to pressure. Voters with limited vision can manipulate the touchscreen to enlarge the font or brighten and black out the screen. Voters with hearing impairments can navigate the touch screen to make selections.

Sumter, Lake and Marion counties are rolling out new voting machines that will accommodate every voter this election season, regardless of physical or cognitive disability.

Florida voters who need voting assistance can receive personal help at the polls, can vote by mail, can participate in supervised voting or can use the latest voting technology offered in the tri-county area.

The new technology includes a $3,500 machine called ExpressVote that can aid voters in a variety of ways and is available at all voting precincts across The Villages. The number of ExpressVote machines in each county varies — Sumter has 67, Lake has 125 and Marion has 200.

Florida law requires all county polling places to be accessible to disabled voters and feature at least one accessible voting system that meets 12 categories of accessibility standards, according to Florida statutes and the Help America Vote Act.

About 68.6 million Americans have a disability, according to 2016 data collected by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The touch-screen technology caters to voters with visual, hearing and physical impairments and produces a paper ballot for tabulation. Voters requiring sight assistance can view the ballot in a larger font or change the contrast on the screen. They can also listen to their ballot choices through headphones and speak their selections. Voters who need it can submit ballot choices by connecting a sip-and-puff device that responds to air pressure signals to the port on the machine’s front access panel.

Sumter County switched out its outdated voting system for ExpressVote, said Bill Keen, the county’s elections chief.

“iVotronic was used for years, and we can use it up to 2020, but our county commissioners have opted to purchase the new ExpressVote, which is ADA approved,” Keen said. “It has braille. It has the enlarged screen. It changes the contrast of colors for the visually impaired. It has the sip-and-puff. It has audio. It’s the most advanced ADA machine on the market. This new system is 10 times better than the iVotronic.”

Marion County supervisor of elections Wesley Wilcox debuted the ExpressVote machines during the 2016 election cycle and received almost no negative feedback from voters, he said. 

All three elections supervisors in The Villages area paid the price of heightened accessibility — $3,500 per ExpressVote machine — without the help of state or federal grants. 

“I know these are much more user-friendly than previous solutions,” Wilcox said. “We give them a blank sheet of paper, they insert the blank sheet of paper into this machine and then they can listen to what all the choices are. When they’re done, it prints all of their choices on that sheet of paper and then that sheet of paper goes in with all the other pre-printed ballots into our tabulator.” 

New machines aren’t the only way Sumter, Lake and Marion counties are making voting more accessible. Voters who live in an assisted living facility or nursing home can also have vote-by-mail ballots sent to them, an option outlined under Florida statute.

Other new technology voters in the tri-county area now have available includes: EViD, which electronically checks in voters with an ID card at polling places, and ballot-on-demand, which eliminates the financial and environmental costs of printing an overabundance of ballots. Lake, Sumter and Marion County precincts now only print ballots for the voters who show up to, and electronically sign them, at the polling place.

While Lake County supervisor of elections Alan Hays received comments on the “flawless systems” and “successful changes” brought on by new equipment, like ballot-on-demand and EViD, he noted that universal voter systems were not heavily used throughout Lake County.

“I’m confident it’s going well, but I don’t know if anybody has used the ExpressVote,” Hays said during this year’s early voting period. “In 2016, we didn’t have the ExpressVote, but we did have a touchscreen voting device. In the presidential election, countywide we had only about 16 people use those things. Many of them choose to vote-by-mail.”

Keen is excited about the changes being made in his first election cycle as supervisor of elections.

“We’ve taken it out and demoed it to a couple of places,” Keen said. “One lady had a little bit of a vision issue. When we allowed her to change the contrast of the screen, it blew her mind. It really impressed her. She only votes by mail, but she’s coming out to vote on that machine this year.”

Michael Summers is the past commander of Disabled American Veterans Orange Blossom Gardens Chapter 150 and an avid voter who enjoys the benefits of accessible polling places.

“The last time I was there and needed help. They let me sit at a table and fill out my ballot. You can always have assistance filling in the bubbles,” said Summers, of the Village of Poinciana. “The polling places are quite accommodating. It’s immensely important.”

Samantha Dunne is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5279, or samantha.dunne@thevillagesmedia.com.