Election officials plan to upgrade the state’s old voting machines with newer, more secure systems. Five voting equipment companies under consideration for the contract held a demo Wednesday at the Utah State Capitol to let the public test drive their machines.
Shawn Phillips is a sales engineer for Hart Intercivic, an Austin, Texas-based company competing with four other vendors to provide Utah with new voting machines.
"As a poll worker, I've activated an accessible session for you, we have an audio ballot," he says to Jennifer Kennedy on how to use the touchscreen and audio-based system to cast her ballot.
Kennedy, who's blind, says voting technology has come a long way over the last two decades for people with disabilities, especially the text-to-speech function.
"It really got garbled, it was very staticky sounding, and it’s not like that on any of these machines so far I’ve tested, and it’s more clear than I’ve ever remembered it being," she says.
Kennedy is a mobility specialist from West Valley who helps blind people learn to travel and use public transit. She brought a group of her students to the State Capitol to test out some of the new machines the state wants to purchase.
“Many blind people for many, many years have not had the opportunity to cast an independent and private vote," she says. "...It’s important to me to continue to participate in keeping that process available to us.“
Mark Thomas, state director of elections, estimates the equipment overhaul will cost about $10 million. But he says cost is only one factor the state will take into consideration.
"We need equipment that will be able to process the ballots quicker...These by-mail ballots," he says. "Security obviously. Think of 10 years ago, the security now, we need to upgrade that. That’s a big part of this.”
Thomas says the new machines will also make it easier to audit the results of any particular election, increasing transparency in the process.
— Julia Ritchey (@juliaritchey) August 2, 2017