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New voting system may help disabled

By Daniela Mohor Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 11, 2001

Touchscreens may replace punch cards  


As the Alameda County Board of Supervisors gets ready to vote on the purchase and financing of a countywide electronic voting system, the City Clerk’s Office will host a demonstration Sunday of the modern touchscreen machines that may soon replace punch card ballots.  

At the event, representatives of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters and of the equipment manufacturer, Global Election Systems, will answer questions from the public and receive feedback from the community. 

The demonstration, which will take place in the lobby of City Hall, 2180 Milvia St., 2-5 p.m. Sunday, was organized on the request of members of the disabled community. Although it would serve all voters, city officials and manufacturers say that the new electronic voting system would particularly benefit people with disabilities who often have to rely on an assistant or use absentee ballots to vote. 

About 3,000 people throughout the county had the opportunity to use similar electronic equipment during the early voting period last November, but reportedly few of them were disabled individuals.  

“We had some people with disabilities using this equipment last year,” said City Clerk Sherry Kelly. “But there are people who are not quite sure that they had the opportunity to test it, so the vendor is working with the county and offered to do a demonstration.” 

Scott Lupkin, a quadriplegic who supports the implementation of touchscreen voting equipment, explained why disabled people want to give their input before the Board of Supervisors votes on the issue next Tuesday. 

“There are ways computers are configured that are harder to use by disabled people,” said Lupkin. “The more disabled people say what the issues are, then the better (the county and the manufacturer) are going to understand what the needs are for properly configuring them.” 

The touchscreen voting equipment to be shown on Sunday is an improved version of the machines used in November. Installation is easier, the screens are more adaptable to people in wheelchairs, and the audio is improved. 

It presents different advantages over the punch card method, according to Deborah Seiler, director of customer relations at Global Election Systems. Such equipment, she said, allows the user to chose a language, prevents users from over-voting, and alerts them with a warning if they have not voted on all the possible selections. The machine, she added, has an adjustable screen angle so that people in wheelchairs can see it. It is highly responsive to the touch and makes it therefore easier for people with limited dexterity to use it. Finally, it has an audio feature designed specifically for visually impaired individuals, who can use a headset and a keypad to select their option. 

Like Lupkin and others in Berkeley, Karen Rose, a blind person and member of the Commission on Disability, is very supportive of a large-scale implementation of electronic voting. Thanks to that kind of system, she said, she could vote independently for the first time in her life last November. 

“Electronic voting gives blind people for the first time the same constitutional right as other people,” she said. “They would print ballots in Spanish and Chinese but not in English Braille so we were always asked to take someone with us to vote for us.” 

If the Board of Supervisors authorizes the county’s Registrar of Voters and the General Services Agency to negotiate a contract and financing plan with Global Election Systems, Tuesday, the county could have replaced its equipment by the primary gubernatorial elections in March 2002.  

So far there is no strong opposition. The City Council recently passed a recommendation asking the Board of Supervisors to approve the $12.1 million funding needed and committed to contribute with $20, 000 to $30, 000 per election. 

Rodney Brooks, Deputy Chief of staff to supervisor Keith Carson said he expected the funding to be approved.