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iPads help disabled people to vote in Oregon

by Doug Drinkwater

November 8 2011

Lewis Crew received help when voting on the iPad
Lewis Crew received help when voting on the iPad

Disabled residents in parts of Oregon will be able to cast their vote on Tuesday's special election by using Apple’s iPad.

Voters in five counties will cast their vote in the ballot to replace the former U.S Rep David Wu, who resigned following a sex scandal, on Tuesday and a handful of these will vote using the iPad.

County election workers are taking a number of iPads and portable printers to parks, nursing homes, and community care centers where groups of voters may struggle to fill out traditional paper ballots.

Using the iPad, disable voters will be able to bring up the ballot sheet and tap the screen to pick their preferred candidate.  

Voters with poor vision will be able to adjust the font size and screen colours, and also command the tablet to read out the list of candidates and voter pamphlet.

Furthermore, for those who are unable to hold the pen, a “sip and puff” device will be offered on the device, allowing for hands-free control.

75-year-old Lewis Crews has severe arthritis and used this system to help when he voted. "It's a lot simpler for me. I think it's a great setup they got," said Mr Crews, when speaking to the Associated Press.

People with their own accessibility tools, like joysticks and paddles, will also be able to use these in conjunction with the tablet, simply by connecting the devices together via Bluetooth.

After the voters have filled out the form, they will then have to print out the completed ballot, put it in an envelope and take it with them to an official ballot box, so that it can be mailed back to the state.

State election officials intend to use the same system for the special general election in January and have suggested that the service could become available across the state, providing the trial run is successful.

Oregon, which became the first state to accept postal voting in 2000, is the first state to use iPads to mark ballots, and turned to the tablet because their older tools, including laptops with accessibility modifications, were nearing their end-of-life, were difficult to carry and troublesome to set-up.

Apple donated five iPads for the experiment, and the state spent around $75,000 on developing compatible software.  Around 800 voters used the iPad to help with their voting in 2010.

Steve Trout, Oregon’s state elections director, said that Oregon would need at least 72 iPads, two per county, to bring the program state-wide.

This deployment would cost around $36,000 for the iPads, and $50-each for the portable printers. In the last two years, Oregon spent over $325,000 on maintaining accessible voting tools.

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