Tips and Resources for Blind Oregon Voters
All registered? Great! All citizens have the right to vote and to vote accessibly and privately. For most blind people, there have been several obstacles to enjoying these rights. Inaccessible ballot procedures, incomprehensible rules about who can help you vote, and unknowledgeable elections staff have made voting a miserable experience for many people– and forget about a secret ballot. But fortunately, it is getting easier and easier for people with vision loss to access a ballot and to vote in private. Thanks to many hard-working advocates, blind people can now vote with relative ease and in private in many states. Take advantage of their hard work by making sure you vote!
Here are some tips for how to make your voting process in Oregon go smoothly. I would like to thank Julie Wright of Hull Foundation and Retreat Center for the Blind and John Schmitt from the Five Cedars Group for helping me to pull together this information.
The Voter’s Pamphlet is available in large print, electronic, and Braille through the Oregon State Library for the Blind. Independent Living Resources also can help you get an accessible Voter’s Pamphlet. The Oregon Secretary of State website also has electronic and audio format voter’s pamphlets available, as well as pamphlets in other languages.
You can ask your local elections office for a “large-format ballot,” if you prefer large print. Call or visit your local elections office (see contact information below.) However the biggest and most exciting development this year is the availability of an HTML ballot through the Oregon Secretary of State’s “My Vote” system on their web page. This will allow users to use a screen reader or braille display to access the ballot. The link may not be active and working yet because ballots have not been mailed out to everyone and are not being accepted yet. Check back after you have received your ballot in the mail. But here is where you start:
You first need to give some eligibility information so they can find out where you are registered and get the right ballot for where you live. After that, Click on the Mark My Ballot link.
Important! Keep your print ballot envelopes! You still have to print out your ballot, put it in your print ballot envelopes you received with your print ballot in the mail, sign your envelope and mail it in or drop it off at a drop-off location. We are apparently not ready for submitting online ballots online yet. According to John Schmitt, who was instrumental in developing the HTML ballot, true online voting is a long way off. For now, being able to read and check your selections online is a definite improvement to past systems which pretty much required a live reader.
When mailing your ballot, there are two envelopes. fold and place your ballot in the smaller of the two envelopes and put that ballot in the larger to mail. You then need to sign the outer envelope. You can use a mark or a signature stamp, but you are required to sign your own ballot. To sign your ballot, Julie Wright gave me this tip: “On your official ballot envelope, there are two punched out holes,. One is punched all the way through and the other is only punched out on the side that requires your signature. When you find the two holes, you sign your name between them.”
If you don’t have a printer, you county elections office or your public library or a printer such as FedEx Office or The UPS Store can help you. Also, if you are really struggling to make it all work, you can call your elections office to send out a “Voter Assistance Team” that will actually come to your location with a laptop computer and a portable printer to help you. The key here is to try not to put off voting until the last minute so if any issues come up, you will have some time to sort them out.
If you would still prefer a person to assist you to vote, you may still do that, but there are some rules and guidelines to make this process as fair and respectful as possible. Here is a guide for people wanting to assist a person with a disability to vote.
Primary (and other local) election day is MAY 17th, 2016.
Here are some other resources that may assist you to vote.
County Elections Offices:
Multnomah County Elections: 503-988-3720 (SE 12th and Morrison)
Clackamas County Elections: 503-655-8510 (located in Oregon City)
Washington County Elections: (503) 846-5800 (near Millikan Way MAX stop in Beaverton)
If you have problems, questions, or feel like your right to vote is being obstructed or violated in some way, contact:
Voting Rights Advocate, Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA)
Disability Rights Oregon
503-243-2081 x 206
The National Federation of the Blind has been a long-time supporter and force in making the voting process equal and accessible to the blind. They have resources and guides to voting available. NFB president Mark Riccobono has asked that blind voters share their voting experiences (both positive and negative) with the NFB in their state. If you would like to report your experiences to the NFB, you may contact any of the officers and board members in the Oregon Affiliate of the NFB.
I hope this information will help you exercise your right to vote! I will update with any new information and repeat this information when we get closer to the General (November) Elections.