Bill helps Alaska's blind voters

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

Lynne Koral said she's been trying since 1994 to get the state Division of Elections to provide secret ballots for the blind.

"Voting is the right of every human being, to vote in secret the way we want," said Koral, president of the group Alaska Independent Blind.

Koral testified before the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday before members voted unanimously to approve a bill to aid blind voters.

The measure would allow the state to use electronic ballots and require that any new election equipment purchased include technology that allows the blind to vote in secrecy.

Currently, those who can't see have to be accompanied into the voting booth by another person who would read the ballot and mark their choices.

The bill's sponsor, Anchorage Republican Rep. Joe Green, said the measure won't cost extra money because the state isn't required to buy new equipment immediately.

Janet Kowalski, director of the Division of Elections, said the state will use its regular maintenance funds to purchase the new voting machines as old equipment breaks down.

The state may also receive money from pending federal legislation. She expects a few machines could be in place by the November general election.

Kowalski said the Division of Elections would like to have provided better options for the visually impaired earlier, but doing so was too expensive.

Now, though, reasonably priced systems are becoming available. Kowalski said problems at the polls during the 2000 presidential election spurred an explosion in electronic balloting technology.

The bill would not only help the 12,500 visually impaired Alaskans, it would also benefit those who cannot read, said Sandy Sanderson, a visually impaired man who testified on Thursday. "This makes an awful big step forward for all of us," Sanderson said.

House Bill 320 next goes to the House Finance Committee.

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