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A Cornucopia of Thanks–Part 1

November 5, 2014

 

A Cornucopia of Thanks at an Altitude of Gratitude, Throughout November

 

Part 1: Thankful for the Accessibility of Voting

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Throughout this month of November, each of my blog postings will focus on a cornucopia of thanks–from an altitude of gratitude.  This week, I am truly thankful to be able to vote–to mark my ballot independently.

 

Yesterday morning, my Leader Dog Zoe and I walked the short distance to my polling place.  The wind was blowing, and the temperature was dropping on this gray day–so typical of November in Milwaukee.  Nevertheless, after walking a few blocks, crossing the boulevard and then one more street, Zoe guided me to the stairs of the Courthouse annex.  With my praise for her work and a couple more commands (“Find the building.  Find the door.  Stay.  Zoe, sit.”), we were inside my voting place.  While Zoe was at a sit-stay, I took off my backpack and took out my pen and signature guide (a small frame to provide a tactile rectangular opening for writing one’s signature on the dotted line).  After placing these items in my coat pocket, I put on my backpack again.  Then, I told Zoe, “Forward, find the table.”  Since we have voted here for numerous other primary and general elections, Zoe did take me to the correct table for my ward.  Confirming my address and name, I instructed the poll worker how to place the signature guide so that I could sign my name in the proper spot.  She was kind to compliment me on my cursive signature because I am certain that it is not the neat Palmer Method as it once was.  When I received my ballot, another poll worker came to greet me:  I recognized her voice from the previous voting experience.  To her question, I responded that my guide dog would follow her to the special voting machine.  She explained that the machine was in a different location–more to the east side of the room.  Locating the chair in front of the computer which I would use, I encourage Zoe to lie down under the table; my Leader Dog quickly obliged.

 

While I waited for the poll worker to find the headset for the machine, I listened to the hustle and bustle–the air of excitement that filled the large room.  A few minutes later, with the headset plugged into the Automark machine, I pressed the top right (diamond-shaped) button to turn off the screen so that, indeed, my marking of my ballot would be secret.  After I told the poll worker that I would stand when I had voted my ballot, I listened to the directions for marking my ballot totally independently–thanks to this marvelous machine.  Especially because I have used this Automark machine on numerous other election days, the directions sounded straight-forward and easy.  Using the arrow keys and a select button (on which is a braille letter “s,” I confidently marked my ballot by listening to the synthesized speech identifying the offices, candidates, political parties, and referendum questions.  After pressing the necessary buttons, I was able to listen to a review screen for a final check before the machine printed out my ballot in fifteen seconds.  When the long ballot rolled out of the machine, I pulled it completely off the Automark.  From all the appropriate sounds, I assumed that the machine had properly marked my ballot.  Throughout this voting time, Zoe lay very still at my feet.  When I stood, I praised her and gave her the signals to come from under the table and stand at my left side.  A few seconds later, the poll worker, who had previously assisted us, came toward us and led us to the machine for depositing my ballot.  I fed my ballot into that machine and gladly received an “I voted” sticker.  (Instead of wearing the sticker on my coat, I saved it in my pocket because I like to put the “I voted” sticker on my braille calendar’s plastic cover.)

 

At the exit door, in a brief conversation with the poll worker, I was quite surprised to discover that I am the only person who uses the Automark machine at this polling place.  After putting on my gloves and a scarf, I told my Leader Dog:  “Zoe, find the door.  Good girl!  Find the door.  Find the stairs.  What a good dog!  Left.”  We were on our way to the intersection to cross Broadway and then the boulevard.  I was once again very proud of my Zoe who had been perfectly behaved at the polling place.  Taking a longer walk home for a little extra exercise, Zoe and I were at an altitude of gratitude.

 

The year that I turned 21 was, as I had predicted, the first year that 18-year-olds were given the right to vote.  Nevertheless, being interested in politics and journalism, I was as eager to vote for the first time, at age 21, as most young people are to drive a car for the first time.  I can well remember the years when, due to my diminishing vision, a sighted family member helped me to mark my ballot either at the polls or on an absentee ballot.  I also recall my hesitancy when poll workers helped me to mark my ballot.  Then, finally, in Milwaukee–thanks to the braillists at what was then called “Volunteer Services for the Visually Handicapped”–I was able to vote my own braille ballot at the polls.  When I received my first brailled ballot, I was extraordinarily excited and overwhelmed with emotions.  Before I placed an “X” on the line of braille dots, my eyes filled with tears.  Oh! At what an altitude of gratitude I was!  I realized that I had to get  control of my emotions so that I could mark my multi-paged brailled ballot.  While I did like this accessible ballot, I was keenly aware that later a poll worker would have to “re-constitute” my ballot.  Yes, we blind people do a good deal of trusting in a variety of ways.

 

After a few years of voting by means of a braille ballot, the Automark machine was presented as the new and great alternative for a blind or visually impaired person’s being able to vote independently–without assistance and with no need for “re-constituting” of the ballot.  Despite my being a proponent of braille, I believe that the Automark is, for many people, the better answer for accessible voting.

 

In my hometown of Blanford, Indiana, only two polling places were used during my years there.  First was the building on the Jacksonville side of town–a location on the cut-off road (once “Grand Avenue”), the northwest corner of the second “country” block from Highway 71.  Sometime in the 1980s, the polling place changed to the newly built Brklach Hall, located on the south side of our small town whose population was approximately 400.  After retiring as chief fire and safety inspector, my dad was happy to work at the polling place for both primary and general elections in our rural town.  Besides enjoying the fine meals prepared by the State Line Christian Church for the poll workers, my dad relished the opportunity to be able to greet and talk with so many townspeople.

 

Both of my parents read two newspapers a day and listened regularly to the television local news at six o’clock and at either ten or eleven o’clock, as well as to Walter Cronkite’s CBS news.  My parents–members of the Greatest Generation–were  not just well-informed:  they, as true patriotic people,  were interested  in the community and nation around them.  One side of the family was republican, and the other side was comprised of democrats.  So, I was a product of both political parties and was free to support the political party of my choice.  If I had stayed in that little town, I imagine I would have considered running for an office; however, life and work took me far from a rural town to a big city, where I would not run for an office, but where my guide dog and I can live and vote independently at this altitude of gratitude.

 

 

With many thanks to all who read my blog,

Alice and Zoe

 

November 5, 2014, Wednesday (Happy Birthday, Eric!)

 

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6 Comments
  1. Alice, I had the same experience you did yesterday, and like you, I’m the only one, probably in the whole community, who uses the Auto Mark machine. I’m so thankful that the election staff is willing to drag it out for me for every election.

    • Abbie–How interesting! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the Automark machine. Also, I really enjoyed your “performance article” on NEWSREEL magazine’s November issue. Take care–Alice

  2. Very interesting, Alice! I’m glad to hear that such a machine is available and user-friendly.

  3. I know how very much you appreciate and cherish your right to vote and the importance of that right being accessible to you, Alice. I think Zoe should be given an “I Voted” sticker, too, for her valiant work.
    God Bless the USA!
    Love, Mary

  4. Paula Lumb permalink

    I always enjoy reading your blogs, Alice! I am in awe of the skills of Zoe, and yourself, simply in your daily adventures. That you remind us of our gift, and right, to vote, is something to be grateful for, indeed! Stay well and keep writing! Thanks.

    • Paula–How nice to hear from you again! Thanks for your comment. Happy Thanksgiving! Alice

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