9 Investigates

Pilot program to help blind, dyslexic Florida voters cast ballots from home

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida primary is days away, and local supervisors of elections are already shifting focus to the general election.

In two local counties, preparing for November means adding an entirely new program to help the blind and others with disabilities successfully vote from home.

Sheila Young, the president of the Florida Council of the Blind, who has had vision impairment her entire life, said she has been able to cast her ballot in the past using the help of an adaptive machine at the supervisors of elections office. But with the pandemic, she'd like to vote from home in November.

READ: Early voting for Florida primary election ends this weekend

Thanks to a recent lawsuit settlement, she'll be able to do so without any help for the very first time.

Young's organization sued to force the state to implement a remote-accessible vote-by-mail system, which allows blind, dyslexic and voters with other disabilities the opportunity to fill out their ballots at home with the assistance of a computer program that can even read candidate or amendment names aloud before mailing it in to the supervisors of elections office.

“The year of a pandemic, now that people don’t want to get out in public, this is a way to allow that community the chance to vote independently at home,” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

Cowles is one of five elections supervisors in charge of launching the pilot program by the November election along with Volusia, Pinellas, Nassau and Miami-Dade.

By 2022, all 67 Florida counties must have the software in place.

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“We always want more people to participate,” Cowles said.

Young hopes this will make more people feel empowered to be part of the civic process.

An estimated 750,000 Florida voters are either blind or have a disability, which makes independent living difficult.

“Some people say, ‘I don’t need to vote. My vote doesn’t count,’ Well, your vote does count and it’s important to get out there and vote one way or another,” Young said.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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