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Oregon enlists the iPad to assist voters with physical disabilities


November 9, 2011

iPad tablets were used this week to enable some Oregon residents to cast their vote in a s...

iPad tablets were used this week to enable some Oregon residents to cast their vote in a special election

Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to trial the postal vote back in 1981 and ultimately the first to conduct a federal election primarily by postal-vote. This week, the State is trialing another electoral innovation by using iPads to make voting easier for individuals with physical disabilities.

According to an Associated Press report Apple donated five of its tablets for use in the trial.

As part of a special election triggered by the resignation of a U.S. Representative amid a sex scandal, tablet-equipped workers scoured five counties looking for residents who would otherwise have trouble voting through the traditional mail-in ballot. Under Federal law, election officials are required to make voting equipment available so that people with disabilities can have opportunity for access and participation in the voting process.

With the use of special software developed by the State of Oregon, voters could choose their preferred candidates on the iPad screen rather than with a pen. However, regulations (arguably now antiquated) still require the voters' selections to be printed and the hard copy record posted or dropped into the electoral box.

For people who have no use of their hands, the most groundbreaking aspect of the trial was surely the ability to attach a "sip and puff" device to the iPad via Bluetooth. This device is predominately used in the control of electric wheelchairs to activate different functions when the person inhales or exhales through a tube or wand. Here, it allowed voters to choose from candidates, scroll through screens, and adjust the font size and color.

By being able to navigate through and fill out the electoral form by themselves, the voters could have more privacy in voting than is usually possible for those with a disability. The iPad could then read back their choices to them.

State officials will conduct further trials and if deemed successful, the new system may be deployed across the entire state in future elections.

Kent and Max Sutherland

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