IPads Help Disabled Voters in Oregon

IPads Help Disabled Voters in Oregon

Oregon is using iPads to help the state’s disabled community vote, illustrating the tablets’ versatility.

That state’s election workers, armed with iPads and portable printers, plan to travel to parks, nursing homes, community centers and anywhere else they find voters having trouble with traditional paper ballots. The mobile devices will enable voters in five Oregon counties to call up the right ballot and tap the screen to pick a candidate in this month’s special primary election.

The visually impaired are expected to be able to adjust the font size and screen colors as well as have the device read back their selections out loud before printing the completed ballot. Limited mobility voters can attach a “sip-and-puff” device to control the screen.

Oregon officials decided to try iPads because other voting equipment for disabled voters was due for an overhaul. The old tools included laptops with various accessibility modifications, carried around in two suitcases and difficult for election workers to set up. The previous system was able to assist 800 voters in 2010, according to the secretary of state’s office and cost about $325,000 in maintenance over the past two years.

Officials hope the iPad’s portability, simplicity and relatively low cost will make it easier to deploy to more places and reach more voters. Apple donated the pilot program’s five iPads and the state spent about $75,000 in software. To expand the iPad program, the state expects to add two tablet devices for each county, or a total of 72 iPads, which would cost about $36,000.

“Some people want to vote independently, and they’re the ones that we’re talking to,” said Steve Trout, state elections director. “Others just want someone to help them, and that’s fine too.”

Elections officials emphasize that, technically speaking, nobody is voting by iPad. Rather, they’re using the device to mark a ballot that’s dispensed from a portable printer and mailed to elections offices for counting, just a like a hand-marked ballot.

Oregon was first in the nation to have all residents vote by mail and if this latest program takes off, the state may lead the way in pioneering the idea of tablet voting as well.

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