Alaska OKs electronic ballot for blind
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Apr 02, 2002
Alaska H.B. 320
A new Alaska law allowing for electronic ballots eventually may help blind
and visually impaired voters in the state to cast their ballots without
assistance, enabling them to keep their votes secret.
Last month, Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles signed H.B. 320, permitting the
state Division of Elections to provide technology for blind and visually
impaired voters so they can cast "private, independent and verifiable ballots,"
according to the legislation.
The estimated 12,500 blind voters in the state have had to rely on other
people to cast their ballots for them in the booth.
"We believe we have the highest per capita number of folks who are blind
in Alaska," said Janet Kowalski, director of Division of Elections. That
doesn't include the members of the voting population who are visually impaired.
"Our goal here has always been to treat voters the same," she said. "What
the legislation says is that anytime the Division of Election buys electronic
balloting equipment, it must be disabled-accessible." The law was passed
quickly and had bipartisan support, she added.
Kowalski said the state planned to test some machines during the general
election in November, but deploying the technology statewide may take some
time. Some new technologies include devices that enable voters to navigate
their choices with an electronic button while listening on a headset. Kowalski
said the state had considered Internet voting, but security was an issue.
The state legislature is considering a capital improvement fund to help
pay for electronic voting machines, but it is too early in the process,
"The Alaska Division of Elections has not been open to some of these
technologies in the past because they were extremely time-intensive and
expensive," she said. "With the revolution in technology, it's just far
easier for election administrators to put these machines in place."
There are 452 polling places statewide, and about 97 percent of them
use optical scanning machines. At the other 3 percent, ballots are hand-counted.
Although the balloting controversies in Florida during the 2000 presidential
election helped spur passage of the bill, advocates have been pushing for
secret balloting for blind and visually impaired voters for a decade. The
Alaska bill is also known as the Frank Haas Act, commemorating a longtime
advocate for visually impaired people in Alaska.