Voting Independently

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by Justin Harford


Yesterday, June 3, 2014, I cast my first ballot independently as someone who is blind, using an electronic voting machine at my local polling place. This experience brought me a lot of satisfaction both because I was participating in the electoral process as a good citizen who had done their homework, studying up on the issues and candidates, and because I was carrying out my civic responsibility with complete independence, and anonymity. However, it took me many years to come to this point.
When I celebrated my 18th birthday in 2006, and the civic responsibility of voting and elections became a reality, I wasn’t really sure how to react. People around me seemed to think that I should be excited, but I wasn’t.
In fact, I had a lot of fears around voting, and skepticism of how much my vote really mattered. I grew up hearing scary stories from fellow blind people about being assisted by voting judges who try to manipulate their decisions. Electronic voting machines meant a whole new set of worries for me. Sure the voting process would be accessible, but there had been some significant questions about certain models of electronic voting machines designed by a company whose leaders had ties to a political party.  I wondered would if the machines could be hacked and made

Pictured: Justin Harford tests the Dominion Voting Machine at the California Secretary of State's office in May 2014. He is sitting in front of a machine with headphones on wearing a suit and there is a woman behind him also sitting at a table with a machine
Pictured: Justin Harford tests the Dominion
Voting Machine at the California Secretary of
State’s office in May 2014.

to drop votes, or cast votes for different candidates or measures then the voter had intended? So how would I know that my vote would count? How would I know that the electronic voting machine wouldn’t just be another form of automated voting judge, which would listen to my choices, and either question me on whether I was making the right decision, or simply put whatever it wanted on the ballot without me knowing?
Nevertheless, over the years my attitude did change. I selectively voted in certain races that particularly interested me, such as Obama for president in 2008, “Yes” on the speed train initiative, while ignoring others like proposition 8, which I came to regret later on after they passed it. Maybe it would’ve been different if I had voted. My mother would help me fill out mail ballots, and I found her to be a lot more trustworthy than a stranger at a precinct.
During my experiences working as a community organizer, I have come to realize the power of interacting with the folks who represent and serve in our local, state and national governments. I have seen individuals step up to the podium at City Hall meetings, bring up issues which I didn’t think anyone would ever care about, and actually elicit a positive reaction from the Council, stopping measures from going through or at least getting their passage delayed for more consideration. I have learned that the vote is the strongest form of nonviolent power that enables people living in a democracy to effect real change, not just because it can get an official elected or put out of the job, but because of the signal that it sends to those who represent us– that we care about how they treat our issues.
That is why I plan to continue voting independently in all future elections as someone who is blind. That is why I am proud to represent the interests of the disability community, so that there will never be anything about us without us.
Justin Harford is the Disability Community Advocate at FREED Center for Independent Living in Grass Valley, CA.

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