Voters with disabilities will no longer, in the words of Secretary of State Denise Merrill, be forced to use “the clunky old system” when voting on Nov. 8.
On Monday, Merrill and advocates for the disabled showed off the state’s new $1.5 million, state-of-the-art computerized system that will allow Connecticut’s disabled voters to first vote, and then print their ballots.
“I am very excited about this,’’ Merrill said. “It is a real improvement over our old system. The beauty of it is people with disabilities will be able to vote just like everyone else.’’
The new stand-alone, tablet-based system requires no telephone or internet service and is intended to be adaptable to a variety of assistive technologies. The tablet system is a ballot-marking device that replaces the previous phone-fax technology.
The previous system required poll workers to use a designated telephone with a secure, pre-registered number. Voters were then given a telephone handset after the calls were answered by a computer system that provided an audio ballot. Once the call ended, the ballot was faxed to the polling place.
Faxed ballots differed in appearance from ballots used by other voters, and thus were identifiable, potentially violating the privacy of the voters with disabilities that had used the system. Under the new system, the ballots of individuals with disabilities are fed through the same tabulators that count the ballots that are manually completed by other voters at the polling place.
“We know that people with disabilities are some of Connecticut’s most active and engaged citizens and that they will be a force in this year’s presidential election,” Merrill said. “We want to make sure that when they turn out to vote this November, they have the most high-tech services available.”
Jonathan Slifka, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s liaison to the disability community, said the new voting system “was a huge step in making disabled voters more independent.’’
Slifka added that the number of voters with disabilities in Connecticut is “not a small number.’’
The new system, chosen through a competitive bidding process, will be provided by Inspire Voting System LLC.
The tablet system will be available at polling places in every town in Connecticut.
The president of the ballot-marking device system, Yung Nguyen, of IVS, gave a demonstration of the system, which allows users to either hit computer keys or use voice commands to vote for candidates, before printing out the results that will be handed to election moderators.
Gretchen Knauff, from the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said the new technology “is another step” in ensuring that those with disabilities are treated in the same way as those who aren’t disabled.
“This takes away the segregated ballot,” Knauff said.
The new technology includes a tablet and a keypad with headphones. Individuals may vote using the touch screen on the tablet, or by using the connected audio system on the keypad.
The audio system, which includes headphones, works by a series of cues requiring voters to push different buttons on the keypad to make choices for each office. Both the touch screen and the audio provide voters with the opportunity to review and revise their choices.
After the individual has completed voting a printer marks a paper ballot that reflects the voter’s choices. The voter then feeds the ballot through the same tabulator used by other voters.
For Connecticut voters who have been using vote-by-phone over the past decade, the process of voting will be very much the same, except that the voted ballots are marked on an attached laser printer instead of being faxed to the polling place.
The audio component may be preferable for people with visual impairments; people who prefer audio cues, including individuals who have difficulty reading; and people with learning disabilities.
The office has developed a handbook, “A Poll Worker’s Guide to Assisting Voters with Disabilities in Connecticut,” which has been provided to Registrars of Voters in all communities throughout the state. The handbook includes information on accessibility, assistance, accommodation and resources, to guide people working at polling places in their interactions with voters with disabilities.
Additional information is available from the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities at (860) 297-4300 (voice) or (860) 297-4380 (TTY). Toll-free is (800) 842-7303 (voice/TTY). The website www.ct.gov/opapd also has information about voting for persons with disabilities.