The Union

Serving Western Nevada County, CA


Disabled test voting equipment


Photo by The Union photo/ John Hart
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Shirley Klein of Rough and Ready checks out a new voting machine for disabled persons Wednesday afternoon at Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City.
The Union photo/ John Hart

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By Josh Singer

Staff writer,

March 30, 2006


A demonstration of new voting equipment that complies with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was held Wednesday afternoon at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City, giving disabled voters an opportunity to test the device and the county clerk-recorder the chance to negotiate a purchase.


Nevada County, like many others in the nation, risks leaving disabled residents without an equal opportunity to vote if it fails to comply with HAVA, the federal act adopted by Congress in 2002 requiring fully accessible voting systems and a permanent paper record. The state of New York was recently sued by the Department of Justice for its noncompliance with the act.


At Wednesday's demonstration, disabled residents were able to see and use the AutoMark voting system, a HAVA-certified machine featuring speakers, a computer screen and printer into which the actual ballot is fed.


"(It's like) a Bic pen that can read to you and talk to you and write for you," said Doug Towne, CEO of Disability Relations Group, who consults with Election Systems & Software, the company that manufactures AutoMark.


"I've gotten through really good with it," said Kim Pearson, a visually impaired resident who tried the Automark system Wednesday when it was asking users to decide their position on favorite musicians, car manufacturers and three-day weekends.


Pearson, 33, voted for the first time last year using an absentee ballot.


Officials with the FREED Center for Independent Living have emphasized the importance of increasing turnout among disabled voters by giving them the same opportunities others have to vote in an "individual and private matter."


Towne, who is also visually impaired, agreed with them.


"A lot more (people) come out to vote at polling places," he said.


An average AutoMark system costs $5000, said Lou Dedier, vice president of ES&S. The county's 60 polling places would all need to be outfitted with the device in order to comply with HAVA, and $1.7 million in state and federal funds have been allotted to help it do so.


At a Board of Supervisors meeting March 21, county clerk-recorder Kathleen Smith said, "Being prepared for November elections is optimistic," sparking much discussion among supervisors and FREED Center officials.


However, after negotiations yesterday, Nevada County's compliance with HAVA seems as though it may come sooner.


Dedier, who negotiated with Smith, said AutoMark systems could be delivered and installed 14 to 15 days after a purchase agreement was made.


Nevada County would soon be provided with different timelines for June and November implementation, he said.


To reach staff writer Josh Singer, call 477-4234 or e-mail