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Douglas Co. demonstrates new voting machines for blind

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse said almost 70% of the early ballots cast so far this year have been dropped in a collection box.

But for many of the 50 or so in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Omaha Association of the Blind, he wanted to let voters know there are improved options for those who don’t have that sort of freedom.

“In 2020, all across Nebraska the legislature appropriated funds for new voting equipment, and part of that is the new ADA Express Votes that we have, our old machines were 10, 12 years old and quite frankly they were outdated,” Kruse said. “These are easier for folks to use, and folks seem to like them. We’re excited about them. Through the pandemic, they weren’t used as much as we would like but we’re seeing folks returning to the polling place so we’re really looking forward to seeing them used.”

Rita and John tested out the new assistive machines that will be in place at all Douglas County polling locations.

“The little pad, I really liked that, it’s a lot easier to navigate and find things,” she said.

But like many of the visually impaired at the meeting, the couple already voted absentee.

“We used to use the auto mark before, but the problem was it was hard to get to the election place,” John said. “And it gets awfully expensive if you’ve gotta take a cab, ya know.”

Katie Larson is a volunteer and visually impaired meeting participant and said the technology is important to the community.

“It helps us vote independently and it’s so much easier,” she said. “I tried it a little while ago, and I love it.”

For these demonstrations, the commission didn’t want to use real ballot questions, so they had some fun with poll questions like “What is your favorite beach?” and the ever-polarizing “favorite dog breed?”

“Can you explain to me why it is you put dogs on the ballot but not cats,” a good-natured attendee remarked.

“The reason is, the cats didn’t make it through the primary,” Kruse responded to laughter.

All jokes aside, Kruse wants voters with special needs to know, their votes are in good hands.

“Our poll workers can assist them if they need assistance, but they can be completely independent if they want to, which is what’s great about these machines,” Kruse said. “We have headphones they can use, if an ADA individual has a sip puff tube, they can use that, so there’s lots of options here because everybody should be afforded the right to vote a secret ballot and to vote independently.”

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