New Vote-By-Mail Technology for Vision-Impaired Voters

Washington County Clerk Nancy Heseman’s office announced that visually impaired voters in Washington County will be able to vote by mail without assistance in the 2020 election thanks to a system that allows them to use audio instructions to navigate and mark their ballots.

The system, known as Accessible Vote by Mail, is similar to the Illinois State Board of Elections’ MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment) process that allows overseas military personnel to receive a ballot electronically then return a marked hard copy to an election authority for voting.

“With a record number of voters using vote-by-mail this year to avoid possible COVID exposure, it is especially important that visually impaired voters be allowed to vote by mail without assistance if they wish,” Heseman said in a statement. “The AVBM system has all the security features of regular voting by mail while adding audio navigation of the ballot for an independent voting experience.”

Users of AVBM must apply for a regular mail ballot and then request and accessible vote-by-mail ballot from the Washington County Clerk’s Office by calling (618 0 327-4800 ext 300, by email at [email protected], or in person at the Washington County Courthouse.

Voters using AVBM will receive the standard secure, unique return envelope that is sent to vote-by-mail applicants but will not receive a paper ballot.

Instead, they will receive a unique PIN and a link to access their ballot electronically from the Illinois State Board of Elections, which is administering the AVBM program.

After following audio directions to navigate and mark the ballot electronically, an AVBM voter prints the ballot and returns it to the election authority in the secure vote-by-mail envelope. As with all voter casting ballots by mail, users of AVBM will receive instructions to follow their ballots as they are delivered to the local election authority and recorded.

“AVBM gives blind and visually impaired voters the same secure and COVID-free voting method that already has been chosen by more than 1.5 million voters statewide,” said Jordan Home, the Illinois State Board of Elections’ American with Disability Act coordinator. “While visually impaired voters still can cast a regular mail ballot with assistance if they wish, AVBM technology allows them to do so independently.”

Vote by mail ballots were sent out beginning last month. Though applications for mail ballots can be submitted through October 29, voters are encouraged to apply now to allow sufficient time for delivery and return of ballots. Mail ballots must be postmarked no later than November 3. Properly postmarked ballots that arrive through November 17 will be counted.

AVBM was developed by VotingWorks, a non-partisan non-profit developer of elections systems.

The Illinois State Board of Elections is an independent state agency charged with the responsibility of having general supervision over the administration of election laws of the state of Illinois. Elections are administered locally by the state’s 108 election authorities.

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