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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

Technology allows disabled voters to cast ballots independently

A device with a screen that says: "To begin voting, insert your card"
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
An Express Vote machine, designed for use by disabled voters, is available at every polling place in Florida.

The Express Vote machines that can be used by Florida voters have a large touchscreen and a keypad with Braille labels, and other aids for those with other impairments.

While the option of voting by mail remains popular, the majority of voters still cast ballots in person, either during early voting or on Election Day, data shows.

But for disabled citizens, voting at a polling place unassisted -- without the help of a family member or poll worker — would be nearly impossible without the aid of special machines available at every precinct.

The machines, called Express Vote, can be used by people with nearly any disability. "We certainly try to provide every tool and every assistance — as much or as little assistance as someone would like," said Ron Turner, supervisor of elections for Sarasota County. "We want to honor the voter's independence and be able to cast that ballot, you know, independently and secretly."

The Express Vote machines have a large touchscreen that can adjust the size of the type; headphones are available, and the keypad has Braille labels for voters with vision impairments.

The machines can also be controlled with a sip-and-puff device for voters who do not have the use of their hands.

"Every early-voting site has one of these Express Vote devices," Turner said. "Our poll workers are trained on them. The voter ... can use them independently."

The Express Vote machine does not count or store votes; It marks a ballot which is printed to be tabulated by poll workers like any other paper ballot with scanners at every precinct.

The keypad of an Express Vote machine has easy-to-use controls
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
The keypad of an Express Vote machine has easy-to-use controls, marked in Braille for voters with vision impairment.

The League of Women Voters of Sarasota County will host a demonstration of the Express Vote technology at a workshop from 1:30-3 p.m. Feb. 28 at the North Port Library, 13800 S. Tamiami Trail.

Jennifer Fagenbaum, Executive Director of Family Promise of South Sarasota County, will also speak about families in need of housing in southern Sarasota County.

Turner's office is gearing up for a busy year, adding nine additional polling places in Sarasota County, "because we think we're going to have a large turnout in November," he said.

Voters can choose to vote by mail, vote early at one of several in-person sites, or vote in person at their designated polling place on Election Day.

While vote-by-mail surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner says he expects more people turning out in person in 2024. "Behavioral patterns may be a little less predictable than they were a few years ago in the pre-COVID, pre-pandemic environment,” he said.

In the 2020 general election, 141,096 people in Sarasota County voted by mail, compared to 131,126 voters who physically showed up at the polls.

By 2022, 94,940 citizens voted by mail, out of 219,532 total ballots cast.

"So we're just trying to make sure that we're prepared for all three ways to vote, so we can make this as smooth and seamless as possible for voters."

The first event is the Presidential Preference Primary on March 19. This primary is for registered Republicans only. In this primary, voters cast ballots for the candidate they want to represent the GOP in the presidential race in the general election in November.

Since the Florida Democratic Party nominated President Joe Biden as its only candidate, there is no ballot for Democrats.

After that, the primary election is set for Aug. 20. The general election is Nov. 5.

For the March 19 Presidential Preference Primary, early voting locations include:

  • Sarasota elections office, 2001 Adams Lane
  • Venice elections office, 4000 S. Tamiami Trail, Room 114
  • North Port elections office, 13640 Tamiami Trail
  • North Sarasota Library, 2801 Newtown Blvd.
  • Fruitville Library, 100 Apex Rd.
  • Gulf Gate Library, 7112 Curtiss Ave.

For information or questions about precinct locations or registration, voters can go to sarasotavotes.gov.

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at jdela@cncfl.org