By TOM FAHEY
State House Bureau Chief
Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2006
CONCORD – Disabled voters will use a new ballot system this fall as part of the state's compliance with the Help America Vote Act.
A combination of telephone and fax machine will allow voters to connect with a centralized computer in Concord that will prompt them to make their choices through a telephone dial pad, and then fax the result to them when they are finished.
The Accessible Voting System was purchased with about $300,000 in federal funds the HAVA made available. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Manning said it will be deployed in every voting ward in the state. A month before primary elections in September, disabled voters will be able to make test runs on the system from their homes.
The system was given a test run this month at the Bedford Town Meeting. Manning said observers from New York City, the State of New York, and Oregon traveled to Bedford to see it in use.
The state is working on a contract with Granite State Independent Living to help educate voters about the new system. Manning had no firm estimate of how many people statewide might use it.
Ellen Keith of the Governor's Commission on Disabilities said that in the past, many voters either cast absentee ballots or did not vote at all.
The system is set to operate with a series of securities codes that block unauthorized access. Once a call is accepted, it connects into a centralized voter registration base and sorts through ballots to offer a voter the ballot with federal, state and local election choices. When the call is complete, the computer generates a paper ballot that is faxed to the voter, who can then hand it to an election official. The ballot is hand-counted when polls close.
Cheryl L. Killam of the GCD said she and Manning have visited 160 polling places around the state to check for compliance with accessibility requirements HAVA lays out. In some cases, towns have moved their polling stations to accommodate disabled voters. In others, existing buildings were modified to meet the law, she said. All will be equipped with jacks to handle phone lines for AVS.
Manning noted that because the new system relies on off-the-shelf telephones and fax machines means broken or malfunctioning equipment can be replaced quickly and cheaply.
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