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Voting for People with Visual Impairments Could Get Easier in IL

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Monday, May 8, 2023   

A proposed measure in Illinois aims to improve access to the ballot for visually impaired voters.

Senate Bill 282, introduced by Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forest, would permit people who are considered blind or have low vision, or those with learning and physical disabilities equating to a "print disability," to vote electronically by mail.

Paula Balistreri, operations manager at the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said there are challenges with the current process.

"Typically they will have a sighted person with them who will read it out loud and mark it for them," Balistreri explained. "It's tricky because not everyone has someone they want to share that with. To vote in person presents another whole list of challenges, not the least of which is how do they get there?"

Supporters believe the bill will allow people with visual impairments to mark their ballot confidentially, without the assistance of other people. However, there are some concerns the new provision will cause confusion, as federal law already mandates at least one touch screen and audio voting booth be at all polling locations for federal elections. There is also concern about security associated with electronic voting.

Opponents say the bill is unnecessary since currently at least one accessible voting machine is required at every polling location.

Aaron Ammons, Champaign County Clerk, added there are even better options, including the Express Vote machine used in his county for people with visual impairments.

"It will read the ballot to them and they can make choices on a pad," Ammons pointed out. "It certainly has Braille, and for those who are having low vision, we also have the ability to enhance the font as well as use different contrast."

People worried about electronic voting security are pushing back. A state board task force has regular meetings planned to get closer to a model. As of January this year, 31 states allow certain voters, including those with disabilities, to return absentee or mail-in ballots electronically.


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House Bill passed with an overwhelming vote of 94-6, with three abstentions. Its companion, Senate Bill 159, passed unanimously with a vote of 34-0. (Chad Robertson/Adobe Stock)

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