Guest post: Voting independently

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Thursday, 23 May 2013 15:46pm

In a recent state by-election, screen reader user Andrew Devenish-Meares was able to vote online. Here, he talks through the experience of being able to place a secret vote independently.

It’s that time again for the people of the Northern Tablelands state election. Some people view it as a right, others say it is an obligation. Either way, the law requires we cast our ballots in a by-election.

Here in New South Wales, the NSW Electoral Commission has spent considerable time developing an online voting application for use in state elections and by-elections. It’s called iVote, and was first used at the last state election in 2011 to great success.

Part of that success is that while it was addressing the issue of a secret ballot for blind and vision impaired people, or anyone else who could not independently complete a ballot, it was also used by those who could complete a ballot, but lived more than 20km from a polling place or would be absent from NSW on election day.

I first used the system in the 2011, and this by-election is my second time using it.  The iVote system is WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant, which makes it easy to access and understand. The use of ARIA landmarks makes moving around simple, and casting a vote could not be easier.

When signing up you choose a PIN, and an iVote number is assigned to you, sent via mail (which is a legal requirement) and your choice of email and/or SMS. Using both your PIN and iVote number, you can log in. After simple instructions, you arrive at a form.  After my first vote, which I found a little tricky, this time I just used my screen reader NVDA’s ‘F’ keyboard shortcut to jump to form fields.

Rather than numbering your ballot, you just press ‘N’ and the next number will be assigned.  So, this is how it went.  I pressed ‘F’ and landed on the first candidate, whose name and party was read by NVDA.

Pressing ‘F’ again took me to the next candidate. I moved through the ballot paper this way once so that I could check what was there matched what I remembered about who was on the ballot.

From there I backed up to the top and started finding my first choice. Once I’d found that person I pressed ‘Space’ to enter forms mode, confirmed by NVDA beeping appropriately, then pressed ‘N’. A number 1 was inserted and read back. Pressing ‘Esc’ to exit forms mode, I found my second preference and repeated the steps. I ended up numbering all the boxes, even though this is not compulsory for a NSW state ballot, and moved to the ‘Save and Continue’ button.

There are also buttons available to undo your last choice, or to clear all your choices if you make a mistake or change your mind.

Once done you are presented with the preferences you chose. You can then go back and change your selection again, or submit your vote. Once you’ve submitted, you’re issued with a receipt number which you can use to verify that your vote was printed and counted correctly once the votes have been counted.

2011 was the first time I’d been able to cast an independent, secret ballot since losing most of my vision in 1997. It was a great thing to be able to do this myself again. I’m really pleased that the NSW Electoral Commission has made the system available for our by-election.

Andrew Devenish-Meares lost most of his vision at the age of 21, some 15 years ago, while studying at university.  He's worked in information technology at a number of not-for-profit organisations since then, and is currently a solutions analyst at the University of New England.  He lives in Armidale with his wife and son.

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