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Disabled may vote without assistance

The St. Croix County Finance Committee voted Monday to endorse a plan for the county to order $210,000 worth of voting systems that allow disabled citizens to vote without assistance.

Wisconsin will receive $18 million under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 to buy voting systems, including hardware and software, and to pay training, maintenance and other costs. Locally, municipalities will get $6,000 for a unit at each polling place.

St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell said the voting system has a touch screen, an audio component for people who are blind or visually impaired and a "puff and sip" device to help quadriplegics vote. She said the units can be moved and adjusted to make them accessible to people with other handicaps.

Equipment must be in place in every polling place in Wisconsin by the September primary to "enable people with disabilities to vote independently," said Campbell. While, the county won't own the equipment, it is fronting the money and acting as purchasing agent.

Campbell said the county purchase will involve units for 35 polling places, and the municipalities have agreed to help buy a 36th unit as a standby.

She said two vendors set up demonstrations for local clerks, who agreed they prefer the Command Central system. Total cost is $209,998 - just $2 short of the $210,000 available.

Campbell said the only glitch she can see is the possibility that some municipalities won't get their funding if their polling places aren't found to be totally handicapped accessible.

She said the units tabulate votes at the end of the day and provide a paper printout.

Campbell suggested poll workers can allow non-handicapped voters to also use the machines, thus cutting ballot costs and reducing the possibility of running out of ballots during some elections.

Campbell recommended ordering the machines soon so they may be delivered in August, giving clerks time for training.

The proposal is expected to be approved by the County Board next week.