Franklin woman, blind since 2010, votes unassisted

Published 2:53 pm Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Franklin resident Jeanette McAllister is totally blind, having lost her vision to an eye disease in 2010, but that hasn’t stopped her from exercising her constitutional right to vote. This year, thanks to the city’s purchase of new, accessible ExpressVote machines, McAllister was able to vote by herself.

According to Franklin’s registrar, Jennifer Maynard, the city purchased seven ExpressVote machines, one for each of the city’s six precincts plus one for the registrar’s office, in January this year.

The machines provide audible instructions to disabled voters via headphones and allow input through a large braille keypad with different shaped keys. The screen can be set to a variety of viewing modes, including white text on black to give higher contrast for voters with macular degeneration or other eye diseases, and can also be set to blank to protect voters’ privacy.

“Most people who are visually impaired don’t read braille so that’s why the keys are shaped differently,” Maynard said.

To make certain each vote has been recorded accurately, once a visually impaired voter has completed his or her ballot, a poll worker will feed the printed ballot back into the machine so it can read selections back to the voter verbally.

Tuesday morning, after McAllister had voted unassisted for the first time in years, she could be seen skipping down the sidewalk joyfully with her guide dog.

“She [the dog] probably thought I had lost my mind,” McAllister said. “I want everyone to know this is a God-given right. We can vote, and for so long I could not, and now, finally, I can. It’s not just about me. It’s about all the other people who are afraid to vote because they’re blind. I think about all the elderly people who can’t see; they’re afraid to vote. Don’t be scared; you can vote.

“Every time I wake up, I’m scared to death because I cannot see, but one thing I can do is I can go vote.”

McAllister also was grateful for the helpful poll workers in Franklin, who immediately recognized her and guided her to one of the new machines.

“There was an elderly man who helped me; he was awesome,” McAllister said. “He knew I was blind when I came in and had [the machine] already set up. He said, ‘Mrs. McAllister, we have your station.’

“I love Franklin. They know who I am here and that’s what’s great about Franklin; everybody knows everybody. I have no desire to live anywhere else.”