by Jim Salas
From the Editor: If you are old enough to remember the radio and television program from the fifties, Dragnet , the following description of voting day last November will tickle you. Jim Salas is a leader of the NFB of New Mexico. Here is his tale of a nonevent as told by a fictional poll worker:
My name is Harlow, Bill Harlow. I was working the 375th Precinct on the east side, Albuquerque. It was Election Day 2006. I'm a poll worker. In my day I've worked the polls many times, and I take my job seriously. I'm like that.
As the doors opened at seven a.m., the crowds streamed in, and the voters queued up. They were here to do their duty, their civic duty. As I scanned the line of voters, I couldn't help noticing him. He was tall, thin, wearing a long trench coat, and he was blind. I could tell by the long white cane he used. I couldn't help noticing the dame on his arm as well; she was blonde. She might have been his cousin or his niece, but I didn't think so. As the blind man and the blonde approached the table, I asked him for some ID. He produced it, the state-issued card. His name was Salas, James Salas. He was legit. The blonde was a Salas too, Michelle Salas. She wasn't his cousin; she was his wife--that lucky stiff. She was a doll. I couldn't help wondering how the blind man was able to snag this blonde dish, or what she saw in him. That, however, is discussion for another day. We had a job to do--vote.
I had seen the video, the poll worker video. I knew what to do. I placed the ID card along the line on the ledger, and the blind man used it as a guide to sign next to his name. Easy. Next was marking the ballot. I asked the blonde if she was going to help him, and she responded that he could handle it himself. I could tell that they were aware of the new machine that he could use to mark the ballot. I asked the blind man if he wished to use the new machine, and he nodded in the affirmative. The blonde went off to mark her own ballot. I peeled off from the table to help the blind man with the new machine. I had helped blind men cast their ballots before. I had even accompanied some into the voting booth and actually pulled levers for them. Being involved in such a personal act appealed to my voyeuristic side, but those days were over. The AutoMark was here.
I directed the blind man to the AutoMark machine with lefts and rights, even though I was facing him. I know my lefts and rights. I'm like that. The blind man sat at the machine, and we fed the paper ballot into the slot. While other voters were marking the paper ballot with a pencil, the AutoMark would mark the ballot for the blind man. I handed him a pair of headphones. He put them on. I heard when the aural instructions began, like when you walk by a teenager with an iPod and ear buds: you can hear the music, but you cannot quite name the tune. I had used the AutoMark myself at a poll-worker training class. I knew what he was doing. His eyes were closed as he listened to the instructions. He was focused. He had his right hand on the control panel. There were four arrow buttons, left, right, up, and down, with a square button in the center. The arrangement was similar to the Zia symbol on the New Mexico flag. You've seen it before. To the right of those keys were four more buttons, one above the other. These buttons allowed the blind man to turn the screen display on or off, repeat the message, and adjust the speech rate and volume.
The blind man turned off the screen display. My voyeurism would not be satisfied on this day. The left and right arrow buttons allowed him to move between contests; the up and down arrow buttons allowed him to move between candidates; and the square button allowed him to make his selection. A Braille label was on each button. Easy. The blind man manipulated the control panel like a pro. I stood to the side of the AutoMark in the event the blind man needed me for something. He didn't need me at all. I looked around. The blonde finished marking her ballot and walked over to the ballot scanner. I watched her walk. She handed her ballot to another poll worker who actually fed it into the scanner. Standard procedure. She then chatted with other voters as they completed the process, waiting for the blind man.
After a time my attention was drawn back to the AutoMark as I heard the sound of the mechanism marking the ballot. As the ballot was ejected from the AutoMark, I asked the blind man to hand it to me. He refused. He's like that. He wanted to hold the ballot until it went into the scanner. Again I directed him to the scanner with lefts and rights. At the scanner he handed the ballot to me, and I fed it into the scanner. Standard procedure. I asked him how it had gone. "Fantastic," he said. Funny, it didn't seem that fantastic to me. Maybe I don't have the same perspective as the blind guy. Then the blind man and the blonde were gone, and I returned to the table to help other voters at the 375th.