Touch screens make voting easier

La Plata County to provide machines at polling locations

Tiffany Lee Parker, La Plata County clerk and recorder, holds a touch-screen voting machine for Chris Maki as Erin Lauth, election technician, looks on. The screens are an option for all voters who go to the polls. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Tiffany Lee Parker, La Plata County clerk and recorder, holds a touch-screen voting machine for Chris Maki as Erin Lauth, election technician, looks on. The screens are an option for all voters who go to the polls.

An ever-increasing number of residents in Colorado are voting from the comfort of their home via mail-in ballot, but those who go to the polls will find it easier than ever, says La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker.

Touch-screen machines in the county’s 20 polling places make voting convenient, even for people with disabilities, Parker said.

Still, Parker said some counties in Colorado have as many as 70 percent of voters turning to mail-in ballots.

But it isn’t the way for everyone. Parker was in her office last week to show Chris Maki, a 34-year-old Durango man with cerebral palsy and a speech impediment, how touch screens work.

Maki always has voted by mail-in ballot, his father, George, said. But he was considering voting at a polling place in November and was curious about accommodations for people with disabilities.

Because Maki couldn’t read the sample ballot from his wheelchair, Parker lifted the tablet, as the touch screen is called, from its stand and held it within his reach.

Maki, who has limited use of arms and hands, was able to touch the screen to answer sample-ballot questions such as what color are your eyes, what is your favorite season, what is your favorite animal.

If Maki votes at a polling place, a person he’s comfortable with, not a polling place judge, would steady the tablet for him to assure confidentiality, Parker said.

The touch-screen voting machines can accommodate people with impaired vision, people in wheelchairs and paraplegics if they can hold something in their mouth with which to touch the screen, Parker said.

People with slightly impaired vision can enlarge the text or contrast to make reading easier, Parker said.

People with severe vision problems or the blind can use headphones to listen to ballot items being read, Parker said. It can be tedious unless the voter is familiar with the issues, in which case he or she can move immediately to register a choice.

The vision-impaired move from issue to issue by using a keypad because the screen is blank. If there is a change of heart or an error, the choice can be voided and re-entered.

Each of county’s 20 polling places has a traditional voting booth for fill-in-the-circle paper ballots and a booth with a touch screen.

When voters who want to use the touch screen identify themselves, an election judge enters on a reusable card a code that identifies the ballot containing the issues that correspond to the voter’s precinct.

The card then is slipped into the touch-screen machine, allowing voters to start making their will known.

When the ballot is full, voters can review their selections printed on a continuous tape, which rolls out of sight when they finish. The tapes are fed into a computer at the end of the day.

La Plata County uses Diebold touch screens purchased in 2006, Parker said. The firm is one of four certified by the Colorado secretary of state.

There are variations in the machines, but they produce the same results, she said.

Parker said that leading people such as Maki through the voting procedure helps her staff members train election judges about the needs of voters with disabilities.

“It’s tough if we don’t know what their needs are,” Parker said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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