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Release Date: May 02, 2006 
Last Update: May 02, 2006 

Contact: (Media Contact) Kelly Chesney 517-373-2520

Agency: Secretary of State

Secretary Land introduces accessible equipment for voters with disabilities

Image: logo for access for allMAY 2, 2006

New system removes obstacles to voting, advances independence

Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land introduced new voting equipment today in Lansing designed to make casting a ballot an easier process for voters with disabilities and advance their independence and privacy in the voting booth, beginning with the August primary election.

The equipment allows voters who have a physical disability or are blind, visually impaired or otherwise unable to mark a ballot in the usual way to do so on a special voting system. Called an AutoMARK, it resembles a fax machine with a large flip-up screen and attachments including headphones.

At least one of the voting systems will be available for use in each of the stateís polling locations for the Aug. 8 primary election as a result of a contract that is expected to be approved today by the State Administrative Board. The devices complement Michiganís optical scan voting system.

"We are at the beginning of a new era in voting for people with disabilities," said Land. "This technology is intended to remove obstacles to voting for members of Michiganís disability community and to ensure they are given the same opportunity for access and participation as other voters on Election Day."

Once approved by the State Administrative Board, the state will execute a $34 million contract with Election Systems & Software (ES&S) to receive approximately 4,300 of the AutoMARK voting systems and associated ballot programming. Costs are covered under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. HAVA mandates that states must have a compliant accessible voting system in place for individuals with disabilities for federal elections in 2006.

Implementing the equipment for the disability community builds on Landís efforts to shift the entire state to a uniform voting system that allows all voters to cast their ballots in the same manner. The department is also working to ensure all polling location facilities are accessible.

The state invited bids on the accessible equipment contract in November and received responses from four companies. The AutoMARK system was selected after an extensive evaluation process involving more than 80 representatives from the disability community and local election officials. AutoMARK was the overwhelming favorite of both groups and was cited for its accessibility and ease of use.

Tom Masseau, director of government and media relations for the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, served on the committee that evaluated the equipment proposals and welcomes the advancement for voters with disabilities.

"Throughout the selection process, Secretary Land has demonstrated her commitment to the disability community by actively seeking the input of individuals and advocates," Masseau said. "The end result is a voting device that not only provides exceptional accessibility features, but also adheres to the principles of inclusiveness by providing people with various types of disabilities the opportunity to mark, verify and cast their votes on the same ballot as every other voting citizen."

Depending on their needs, voters may cast their votes without assistance using the screen, Braille keypad or foot pedal. They may also use magnification and contrast features on the screen, headphones with an audio function, a wand or personal sip/puff tube to assist in marking the ballot. When the ballot is completed, it is scanned and is stored with all other ballots. Voters maintain the privacy of their ballot throughout the process.

Using any of the other disability systems under consideration would require poll workers to merge election vote results obtained from two different pieces of voting equipment. It also would complicate the task of county canvassing boards, Land said. The ability to cast a secret ballot like everyone else is a priority for disability advocacy groups, she added.

The AutoMARK system is a good fit for the needs of election officials as it does not require any merging of ballot totals and will simplify the task of pre-election testing, Land said. She noted it also provides a solution for members of the disability community who desire accessibility, independence and privacy in voting.

The plan to provide technology that has been designed specifically for members of the disability community in the voting booth is the first such endeavor in state history. According to the Michigan Commission on Disability Concerns, 1.9 million of the stateís approximately

10 million residents have disabilities.

Image of disability voting equipment



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