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Blind Michigan Voters May Struggle With New Voting Machines

voter ballot
File photo

New voting machines in Michigan may cause problems for residents with a visual disability.

Tuesday's primary election will feature $40 million of new equipment that replaced aging voting machines, The Detroit Free Press reported .

For more than a decade, blind voters in the state have used AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals, which have a touch screen and a keypad with Braille. A 2015 survey estimates that about 221,000 Michigan residents have a visual disability.

Most Michigan counties will now use Dominion Voting Systems, which don't have keypads with Braille and feature verbal instructions that can be difficult for a blind person to follow. Some counties selected new equipment from Election Systems & Software or Hart InterCivic.

About 100 blind people helped test out the three systems in 2016, said Fred Wurtzel, who is blind and is second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan. He said most testers preferred the Election Systems equipment, while many said the Hart InterCivic were the most difficult to use.

A 2015 survey estimates that about 221,000 Michigan residents have a visual disability.

All of the devices are federally certified and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State's Office. Others with different types of disabilities, such as quadriplegia and severe brain injuries, have given the new devices "high marks."

State officials will take the feedback and concerns into account when working with vendors to improve the devices, Woodhams said.

Dominion and Hart InterCivic officials did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Despite the challenges voters may face with the new equipment, Wurtzel said he still hopes people will show up at the polls.

"Unless we exercise our right to vote, we're not going to be taken seriously," he said.

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