It is March 21, 2006, the day of the primary election, and there is anticipation in the air as I get ready to go vote. I will be voting by secret ballot for the first time in my life and I have been voting since 1980.
I went downstairs to wait for the bus shortly before 9:30. I did not want to be late as I had no idea how long it would take. Finally around 9:35 the bus arrived and I was on my way to a new experience. I arrived at the polling place after being let out of the bus at the entrance where people were going in to vote. I walked down the hall to where I heard voices and was eventually met by an election judge. He asked me if I wanted to use paper or vote electronically. I told him that I wanted to vote electronically.
I got in line to check in and waited behind at least one other person with a disability. I got to the table and met Mary, who checked me in and helped me get started. She was required to ask me which ballot I wanted since Illinois is a closed primary state (meaning you have to declare which party you are taking a ballot for). I told her that I wanted a Republican ballot. She made a card for me, then we went over to the machine. The first card did not work; it came up "ballot canceled." I had requested audio only, but this did not seem to work. I did hear a comment about having to call the Election Commission about the problem. Mary made another card, which worked. I heard the directions and was told that my ballot was displayed on the screen. I wasn't happy with this, but did not fight the matter due to the problems with the card in the first place. I would later find out that there was a bug in the software involving the message displayed on the screen. Mary did what she was required to do; she was prepared and well trained.
She showed me where the keypad was and I was on my way. I went through each race and made my choices, using the six key to move forward and the five key to make my selection. I rarely had to use the four key to move back. When I was done, I was able to get an audio summary of my ballot and went through to make sure it was right. It was right the first time and I submitted it and the machine printed it. At that point, I was done voting. I checked out and got a little sticker that said "I Voted." This sticker didn't last long; but the memory of my first secret ballot will last a lifetime.
I went back to the door where I had come in so that I could wait for my ride. While waiting, I got to see some other people come in as well as students pass to the next period. Since our polling place is in a school, I must say what a herd of elephants on the latter activity. What I love most about today is the fact that no one knows how I voted. I was explaining this to a colleague at work, who was happy for me. Mary, the election judge, commented afterward that Ray (my husband) and I had done a lot of work to make sure this happened; I told her that there were a lot of others involved at the national level. She thought it was neat that we could now vote via secret ballot just like everyone else.
Due to a moderate hearing loss, speech and volume are important issues for me. These issues include the quality of the reading as well as the volume of the voice. The person who read the ballot did an excellent job; I had no problems understanding what was being read. I could understand it as each name was pronounced clearly and distinctly. It helps to have a local person read the ballot.
Volume was the other issue. I was able to turn up the volume easily when I needed to do so. I did not have to do anything with the rate of the speech. They also had over-the-ear headphones there.
After I voted, I listened for the returns to come in and, along with my husband, tracked the local returns online. It was nice to know that my vote truly counted. I knew that my vote was among the numbers being read on the screen. My vote affected the total. This was neat!
The first step has been taken and there is no turning back now. I eagerly await the general elections on Nov. 7.
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