El Paso County unveils next-generation voting machines

Author: Erin Prater - September 22, 2017 - Updated: September 22, 2017

The El Paso County Clerk & Recorder’s office is debuting new voting kiosks, which will be easier for voters with disabilities to use, just in time for the Nov. 7 coordinated election. Voters got a chance to practice with the new voting machines at the Independence Center on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

Colorado Springs resident Nicole Curtis, who is totally blind, used a voting machine for the first time on Thursday.

On the mock ballot: A referendum on the Louisiana Purchase and a congressional race between late civil rights activists Martin King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Curtis was among the first people to test out El Paso County’s new ballot-marking devices at The Independence Center, an organization south of Downtown Colorado Springs that provides assistance for people with disabilities.

Participants used ImageCast touchscreen tablets – described by Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman as “oversized iPads” with “Game Boy-like devices” attached – to key in their choices. People with visual impairments can use headphones to listen to a computer-generated voice read instructions for using the machine and list the ballot questions before they use a hand-held controller to select their choice. Those who are paralyzed or have severe mobility issues can even plug in a personal “sip-and-puff” device to control the machines, inhaling or exhaling into a tube to choose options on the ballot screen.

“It was very user-friendly for a blind person,” said Curtis, 33.

The machines, which cost about $2,500 each, were part of a roughly $888,000 purchase of updated election equipment that county commissioners approved in March. The investment includes high-speed scanners, servers, software for generating ballot layouts and calculating results, and 90 of the ballot-marking devices.

“It’s easier for the voter to vote on it, and it’s easier for the judges to explain how to vote on it,” said Angie Leath, the county’s director of elections. “I don’t think we’ll have as many questions as we did with the old touchscreen system.”

During the upcoming election, two dozen of the kiosks will be spread across the county’s nine voter service and polling centers, including a location at The Independence Center. While the kiosks are specially designed for people with disabilities, they can be used by anyone who is voting in person, according to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

The office will mail out more than 390,000 ballots to county voters on Oct. 16, Broerman said. About 3,000 ballots will be mailed in advance on Saturday to members of the military and others overseas, he said.

Last month, Broerman’s office received an award from the national Election Center organization for partnering with The Independence Center to make voting more accessible for all.

Courtney Stone, community organizing manager for The Independence Center, said the new machines could help more voters with physical impairments make it to the polls. When a person with a disability has trouble casting a ballot on one Election Day, he or she may be discouraged from voting in the future, she said.

“People have one negative voting experience and it can often be off-putting for much longer than that experience lasts. For years in the future, they’re choosing not to vote because something bad happened 10 years ago,” she said. “These have been purposefully designed to be as accessible as possible.

Forty-two-year-old Matthew Morris, who is also totally blind, said he was impressed with the machine’s easy-to-use controls and coherent audio track. He said he might vote in-person for the first time in the next election.

“I’ll give it a shot,” said Morris.

The Associated Press