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Opening the door for more voters

Special voting machines help visually impaired cast their ballot

Special voting machines help visually impaired cast their ballot

February 08, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Not only is 18-year-old Montana Love now qualified to vote, but new voting equipment is available that will help the legally blind teenager cast her ballot more easily.

"If they didn't have these machines, I don't know how I'd vote," Love said after trying her hand at a machine that speaks candidates' names through headphones, instructing her to push number buttons on a telephone keypad to select her choice.

Love was among 15 people, mostly members of the Appalachian Trail chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Maryland, gathered at Christ Lutheran Church in Hagerstown Saturday for a test-drive of the machines that was guided by county election board officials.

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Kaye Robucci, Washington County Election Board deputy director, said 488 of the machines will be in place at county voting precincts for the March primary election.

All districts in Maryland, except Baltimore City, will have the machines this year at election time.

Robucci said demonstrations like the one at the church were held Saturday at Wal-Mart and at some Martin's Food Market locations in Hagerstown.

Dan Barnhart, the chapter's vice president, said there are 20 people in his chapter that either are blind or visually impaired. He didn't know how many people in the county would benefit from the machines.

Barnhart, 21, who is legally blind, said this year will be the first time he votes in a presidential election. The Hagerstown man was underage during the last election.

"For the first time, I think it opens the door to a large margin of voters," Barnhart said of the machines.

Mary Jane Henson, 59, of Hagerstown said her vision has deteriorated over the past five years. She never misses an election, she said, but she's had to bring people into the voting booth with her to assist in her selections.

"They tell you who the candidates are, but it's a matter of trust," she said.

Henson thinks the new machines will make the results of voting more accurate.

JoAnn Gearhart, 69, of Hagerstown, said she's blind in her left eye and reading a ballot always has been difficult.

"It's hard. They didn't want my husband to go in with me and I had to do it on my own," she said of the last time she voted.

Gearhart thinks everybody should vote regardless of their disabilities, she said.

For 16-year-old Danielle Shives, the time to vote won't come for another two years, but the legally blind youth said she's happy about the machines.

"I think it's going to make people who are blind feel like they can go out there, that there can be things adapted for us to use," she said.

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