Special equipment available to help low-vision voters cast ballots in Alachua County

A special voting machine allows people with low vision to make adjustments to the display screen while casting a ballot in Alachua County. Alachua County voters with diminished vision can use specialized equipment to help them cast ballots during the early voting period and on Election Day.

The devices are nearly identical to other electronic voting machines but with a few added features: A handheld controller allows voters to enlarge ballot text and adjust the screen’s contrast. It also includes a text-to-speech feature. One of the specialized machines will be placed at each voting precinct on Nov. 3. They are also available at the county’s six early-voting sites.

People with low-vision needs had the opportunity to explore the assistive voting machine when one was set up recently for a demonstration at a University of Florida Health ophthalmology practice. Most patients were unaware that the special machines were available and their reactions were overwhelmingly positive, said Jessica Cameron, O.D., FAAO, a UF Health optometrist and clinical faculty member in the UF College of Medicine’s department of ophthalmology.

An individual with low vision is in a category of sight deficiency that cannot be corrected with surgery or eyewear. Low-vision patients also usually have an underlying ocular disease.

Without the assistive voting machine, Cameron said low-vision patients would need assistance from someone else to help them cast a ballot on Election Day or complete a mail ballot.

“They were very encouraged because they don’t have to have someone assist them with a mail ballot. This allows everyone to participate independently in voting regardless of their visual acuity,” Cameron said.

The assistive machine includes a controller with large buttons that allow voters to substantially adjust the ballot’s text size and the screen’s contrast and color. Those who still have problems seeing the ballot can plug in headphones and hear it verbalized.

“Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that can help people the most,” said Cameron, who is the only Gainesville-area physician specializing in managing low-vision patients.

Other than the handheld controller, the assistive voting machines are the same as traditional ones said TJ Pyche, director of communications and outreach for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections.

“People are very appreciative of the machines’ presence and what it does for them, which is allow them to vote independently and with privacy,” Pyche said.

The assistive machines have been in use for some time and poll workers at each voting site are well-trained in their use, Pyche said. Just as with other voting systems, a paper ballot is fed into the machine and marked when the voter is finished.

“I really like that everyone has the maximum opportunity to participate in the election instead of struggling or figuring out a different way to cast a vote,” Cameron said.

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Doug Bennett's picture

Doug Bennett

Science Writer, Editor

Doug Bennett joined the UF Health staff in January 2015 as a science writer and editor. His topic areas include anatomy; biochemistry and molecular biology; molecular genetics and microbiology; pathology,...Read More