Voters With Disabilities Have Options at the Polls

Gone are the days of "dimpled chad" and pull levers when it comes to voting for president, but for first-time voter Nika Hill last week's election proved challenging. Hill is visually impaired and although her guide dog Rocky helps, she had to rely on a Stevens Point poll worker when registering and voting.

"When they gave me the ballot, he took me over to a table that was sort of separated from all the other voting areas and basically filled out my ballot for me," said Hill. "Then [he] helped me get it in the box that takes the ballot at the end.

She doesn't suspect any wrong doing but says the process took away the anonymity of her secret ballot. "The other thing is you're not sure if who you're voting for is the person that they put down," said Hill

The process is rare but has precedent. Ballots in Wausau require the signature of anyone assisting voters. Hill is unsure whether her ballot was signed in Stevens Point. "If i remember correctly, I think he had initially thought of signing his name and then he had me sign it," Hill said.

In most cases, voters with disabilities use AutoMARK assistance machines which cater to a variety of impairments.

"It actually has Braille and it can assist telling you what the candidates are, who they are and then you make the option of who you choose to mark with the Braille and the buttons on there," said Wausau city clerk Toni Rayala. "It also has a headset so if you are visually impaired at least you can listen audio to get the information.

But Hill says she didn't know to ask for the machine. "I had no clue that it even existed until after I had voted and then got feedback from some of my other friends who are visually impaired," said Hill.

City clerks, Government Accountability Board members and Disability Rights Wisconsin workers agree the AutoMARK devices need additional promotion. "I've been voting since I was 18," said Rayala. "I'd never heard of it personally until i took this job."

John Moe, the Stevens Point city clerk says the machine was in place but he's unsure why the service wasn't offered to Hill since other residents with disabilities use the polling station. Next time, Hill says she'll ask for the AutoMARK system.

"I think it's such a private thing to be able to vote for who you want to vote for," Hill said. "I like the fact that it would give me the ability to vote just like everyone else."

Hill's experience appears to be an isolated event, several of her friends who are visually impaired used the automark machines.
Moe says he did not hear about any similar issues during last week's election.

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