E-Slate Voting

CASTING A BALLOT. Vincent Johnson, who is the AT/IT coordinator for the Disable Resources Center, gives the city's new e-slate voting machine a try.

"Will you still get your sticker?" Gloria Wynn joked after finishing up a trial on the city's new e-slate voting machines.

Wynn, who has vision impairment, was able to use the machine without anyone's assistance - it has a special function that gives audio commands. It will be used for the primary elections here in April - the first use in any city in Los Angeles County.

"I think the city of Long Beach has always been progressive in its voting systems," City Clerk Larry Herrera said Monday, as he showed off the technology to the Disabled Resource Center. "The next logical step is to provide independent voting to persons with disabilities. It's a small step, but it is an important step."

Of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, 60 conduct their own municipal elections, including Long Beach. Until 2006, the city had an independent contractor, but since then, Herrera said his office has been working on improving the city's voting capabilities in-house. The e-slate voting machines already are being used in Orange County.

"I'm hoping that this is the wave of the future for the city of Long Beach," he said.

The machines can be used by anyone, but they are particularly helpful to those with disabilities.

"Although it's a small step, it doesn't matter to me if one person more votes or 100 people vote on this using the access aspects of this device," Herrera said. "At least for those who have never voted privately or independently, this will be a first step."

During the demonstration, people with sight, hands and motor disabilities were able to use the device. Headphones and voice commands can help, there were special buttons for those who could not use their hands easily and the device also lends itself to the sip and puff device for people who can't use their hands at all.

The device is electronic and it lays out the ballot like one would see it on a traditional paper ballot, but the voter can actually go back and change his or her choices before finalizing and sending in the vote.

The city spent about $24,000 on each of four machines that officials will set up at City Hall for the early voting period (March 12 through April 3) and the emergency voting period (after early voting and through election day). The City Clerk's Office is even offering free ways to get people to City Hall for early voting.

Herrera said he initially was looking at spending some election budget money on electronic poll books, but decided the city would benefit more from providing this new way to vote.

There are about 270 polling stations in the city, so adapting the technology citywide might take a while, officials said.

Dolores Nason, executive director of the Disabled Resources Center, said it nearly brought tears to her eyes to see some of her volunteers, workers and clients using the voting machines for demonstration.

"People who have disabilities, they still want to be independent and they want to keep their dignity," she said. "And being able to vote can be a big part of that."

For more information, call the City Clerk's office at 570-6489.

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