Maine is using Tuesday’s elections to debut new voting machines designed to aid people with disabilities and boost voter participation.
The ExpressVote system that will be used for the first time Tuesday in Maine is designed to make voting easier by offering both visual and audio cues and eliminating the old systems’ delays.
Voters can cast their tallies via touch screen or a controller with Braille labels, unique shapes and colored buttons.
“There are few things more sacred in a democracy than the right to vote,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. The new system allows people to vote without assistance, ensuring the right to a secret ballot, he said.
There are enough of the machines for each polling place to have at least one of them, officials said. Some busy locations will have several.
It’s hoped that the machines, about 500 of them, will reverse a trend in recent years of fewer people with disabilities voting, said Sara Squires, public policy director for Disability Rights of Maine.
The old system consisted of a phone line that allowed voters to listen and to select options by pressing a key. The votes were then recorded at a central server in Augusta and fed back to the polling place via fax machine.
About 1,100 people used the system when it was introduced in 2006, but that number has fallen to about 50 to 100 voters in recent elections, said Kristen Schulze Muszynski, a state election spokeswoman.
The new system is much more intuitive and produces printed ballots marked with voters’ choices on the spot. Then the ballots are fed into a tabulating machine or dropped into a ballot box, along with everyone else’s ballots.
The system is not connected to the internet, so there are no concerns about hackers or voter privacy, officials said.
“It’s a vast improvement on the former system. It’s faster. It’s more intuitive,” Squires said.
The evaluation team that chose the ExpressVote system was composed of state election workers, municipal clerks and advocates for the disabled.
The state is paying $1.7 million for the new system under a four-year leasing agreement, the spokeswoman said.