Colorado Department of State Voting Equipment Demonstration
December 18, 2012
Today the Department of State for Colorado demonstrated the Election System and Software (ESS) equipment for the public including the AutoMark ballot marking devise. The significant difference in the ESS AutoMark system is that it only assists the voter to “mark” the ballot; it does not make or keep an electronic total of the votes like a typical voting machine does.
The demonstration today was not a test of the equipment and was only intended to show to the public how the systems function. The AutoMark has many accessibility features that make it usable by people with disabilities. The accessibility features make it comparable to other voting machines that are used in Colorado especially for people who are blind, people with low vision and people with dexterity limitations.
The main accessibility feature is that the AutoMark will read the ballot aloud through headphones. This is most useful for a blind voter, but it may be helpful for other voters with disabilities and any elector. The AutoMark will read aloud the ballot candidates and issues as well as navigate the entire ballot from instructions to completion of “marking” the selections on a ballot just like those used by other voters.
Also the AutoMark has the ability to enlarge the test on the printed ballot for a visually impaired voter that has some sight. The AutoMark can also change the background from black text on white, to white text on a black background for a voter where more contrast will help them read the content. The voter with low vision still must use the AutoMark system to navigate the ballot because the system is not a magnifier. It is a programmed copy of the ballot content.
Once all the ballot selections are made the AutoMark provides an overview or review screen of all the selections made for the voter to approve or correct. The AutoMark then marks or prints the voters selections on the ballot and ejects the marked b allo9t for the voter to cast like the ballots marked by hand.
The AutoMark will also work with a sip-and-puff add-on devise as well as an easy to touch, two button (red and green) panel. The AutoMark comes with a desk that sets its height at about 30 inches from the floor. The buttons and sip-and-puff can be used where the height of the AutoMark does not match a users height. The AutoMark screen may be adjusted for different viewing heights, but the input panel is static. The ESS representative said that separate instructions could be recorded for use with the sip-and-puff and the two switch panel.
This system has one big difference from other accessible systems in Colorado. The AutoMark only marks the ballot, it is not a voting machine. Other accessible voting systems in Colorado will offer screen reading and low-vision assistance but they also will record the vote electronically and are counted electronically. They don’t produce a printed ballot.
The Hart system that Boulder County uses also prints a copy of the ballot on a small glass-enclosed printer next to the electronic entry screen. This provides a printed copy of the electronic ballot for the voter to “verify;” but it does not “mark” the ballot the way other voters are required and the printed ballot is not counted except for an audit. The Hart system provides an electronic total at the end of voting.
The small printer on the Hart system seems very similar in allowing a visual verification to the voter, however, it is not an effective accommodation to a visually impaired voter. It is difficult to understand how a blind voter would “verify” the printed ballot kept under-glass. It also is not ideal for a voter with low vision because the print size is constant and on a paper roll that is smaller than a typical letter-sized page.
The advantage of the AutoMark is that it creates a regular sized ballot. The ESS representatives said that the ballot once printed could be re-inserted into the AutoMark and “read” by the system. The verification in this case is that the ballot once marked by the AutoMark system can be verified by actually having the system re-read the marked ballot.
On a larger scale, the AutoMark allows ballots voted by people with disabilities to be processed and counted just like the ballots of the other voters. This seemingly minor accessibility feature makes the AutoMark stand above the paper-ballot systems used by Colorado.