This election day, Oregon is pioneering a novel way for individuals with disabilities to vote. The Associated Press reports that Oregon will use iPads at the special primary election in five counties to replace former US Representative David Wu, who resigned after a sex scandal. County election workers are taking iPads and portable printers to community centers, nursing homes and other places where there might be people who struggle to use a traditional paper ballot. Via the touchpad technology of the iPad, a voter can call up a ballot, mark their choices of candidates, print it out, sign the ballot and either mail it or place it in an official ballot box.
By using a ballot on an iPad, those with impaired vision can easily make the font size larger. The iPad can also be set to read the names of candidates out loud. Other technologies such as a “sip and puff” device make it possible for those with physical disabilities who cannot use a touch screen to vote independently with much more ease that with the equipment — laptops outfitted with various devices hauled around in two suitcases — Oregon officials previously used to support individuals with disabilities.
Using iPads (which cost about $500 each) and portable printers (which cost about $50 each) is certainly cheaper than the equipment in those two suitcases. In the past two-year budget cycle, Oregon spent $325,000 to maintain accessible voting tools. In contrast, about 72 iPads add up too about $36,000, while developing software costs about $75,000, according to Apple.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, voting places must be accessible and people must have access to privacy and be able to vote independently. The iPad doesn’t make voting completely accessible for all. While it offers technological and economic advantages, there are still a number off accessibility and privacy issues that must be addressed. Voting via iPad isn’t paper-free as voters still have to print out and sign a paper ballot. Those with visual impairments might have difficulty seeing if the printout has the same selections marked as they had chosen on the iPad. While officials can help read back the ballot, their doing so compromises individuals’ privacy and independence — two words of key important among disability advocates.
So far, the use of iPads to make voting more accessible is a pilot program in Oregon. If the program is successful, the state elections office plans to make voting via iPad available in all 72 of Oregon’s counties. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown emphasizes the importance of making sure that everyone gets their opportunity to vote:
I won my first race for the Oregon House of Representatives by seven votes. I know how important every vote is and as your Secretary of State I am working hard to make voting more accessible to all eligible Oregonians.
If voting by iPad grows, hopefully more software can be developed to provide even better accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Everyone does count and everyone should be able to vote and have their privacy respected and their independence accommodated for.
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Photo from the Associated Press