Sunday, March 05, 2006

Vote-PAD Demo Well Received in Humboldt

The Humboldt County Election Advisory Committee (EAC) received a presentation Thursday night from Dianna Smith of Vote-PAD, the assistive device designed to allow handicapped voters to vote privately and independently.

The "device" is about as low-tech as possible, taking the form of a spiral bound folder into which a paper ballot is inserted. Inside the folder is also a clear plastic sheath with holes that line up over the places on the ballot where the voter can mark his or her choices. The holes aid the voter in keeping the tip of the pen within the ballot's designated marking area while the sheath protects the rest of the ballot from stray marks.

Other features include braille dots, rubber-tipped page-turning clamps for dexterity impaired voters, a magnifier, and an audio tape that can be rewound, forwarded and played at variable speeds. Vote-PAD also allows voters to verify their vote choices through the use of a vibrating verification wand that can detect whether or not a bubble on the ballot has been selected. Smith noted a compelling anecdote of a deaf and blind MN voter who successfully tested Vote-PAD.

In addition to the clear plastic sheath, a removable opaque "privacy shield" page is also enclosed in the folder to enable removal of the ballot and insertion in either a ballot box or optical scanner without having to expose the voter's choices. One of the big selling points of Vote-PAD is that it is compatible with any voting system a county might use and appears also to be HAVA compliant. The Vote-PAD device can also be customized by the manufacturer to conform to any ballot size.

Vote-PAD is a privately owned and privately funded corporation based in Washington state. It is estimated that Humboldt County could spend $160,000 for 80 kits, each including 20 folders and all the accessories. These supplies should last for several years with virtually no maintenance costs and only nominal replacement fees.

Judging by the way County Clerk/Recorder Carolyn Crnich and Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams were assisting Smith in answering questions, it certainly seemed Humboldt's top two election officials are supportive of Vote-PAD. If so, this ought to mean a change of plans from their previously stated intention (.pdf) to purchase about 110 Diebold TSx DRE machines. I don't think we can count on this for sure just yet, but I understand this subject will be taken up by the Board of Supervisors on March 14.

Meanwhile, the issue of Diebold's conditional certification was mentioned only briefly at this EAC meeting. I opted not to interject my concerns as they were already known to those present and could only have led to a futile argument in that moment. The EAC meets on the first Thursday of each month and is open to the public. My understanding is that next month's meeting will deal in more depth with Diebold and voting security issues in general.



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