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Blind Michigan voters use electronic absentee ballots for first time

Voting method usually reserved for people overseas

DETROIT – Blind voters and advocates celebrated this week after Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was forced to allow the use of electronic absentee voting normally reserved for men and women overseas.

The technology allowed many blind voters to cast their ballots independent of help for the first time.

The process is simple. The ballot appears on the screen and a person who is blind can have it read to them like any other text through a text-to-speech program. It can also be run through a braille system for the deaf-blind. After a ballot is filled out it’s print, sign and send.

Michael Powell, with the Michigan chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, is one of the men suing the state for wider use of the electronic system on behalf of blind voters.

“Why should they risk going to a polling location and, and especially if they go to one and they find they can't use it because the people don't know how to use the machine or if there's some kind of issue, and they've risked their lives for nothing,” Powell said.

Powell added it's not just about ease but also independence for those who are often overlooked.

“I voted with voting machine assistance since 1972. But now that it’s possible for me to vote independently. I want to be able to exercise my right and have a secret ballot," he said.

Powell’s attorney, Jason Turkish, said despite the judge’s order to allow the use of electronic absentee ballots, the lawsuit will continue in hopes of securing the use of the same ballots in the August primary and November general elections.

Expanding the use of electronic ballots has been heralded by both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. However, according to Turkish, Benson has been pushing back on expansion.

In a call with reporters last week, Benson said she planned on keeping polling locations open for elections for those with disabilities who need help casting their ballots.

Both sides met over video conference Friday, where the Judge ordered an expedited process going forward likely to meet state election administrative deadlines. The next court date is June