Voters with impaired vision, limited arm movement or other difficulties filling out a standard mail-in ballot are encouraged to try out a new audio ballot-marking system at the Clatsop County Clerk's Office.

Clatsop County is among 10 Oregon counties participating in a pilot program with the Accessible Ballot Marking System, which uses a telephone and a fax machine to enable voters with disabilities to mark their ballot independently and privately. The Oregon Secretary of State's Office is looking at this system in an effort to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.

Voters bring their ballot to the county elections office, located on the second floor of 820 Exchange St. in Astoria. The elections office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day, May 16.

An election worker calls into the system and enters a security code to validate the call and to indicate which ballot the voter needs. The election worker then gives the phone to the voter who uses the phone keypad to make selections on the ballot.

On the phone, the voter is asked for choice of votes on candidates and measures. The voter makes selections by pressing buttons on the phone keypad, which has enlarged numbers. Voters can also write in candidates by spelling out names using the keypad.

Once completed, the voter verifies the selections, submits the ballot and hangs up. Within minutes, the system faxes back a ballot marked with the voter's selections. The voter places the ballot into the secrecy and return envelopes, signs the envelope and casts the ballot. Once received by the county, the signature will be verified and the ballot duplicated for counting on the optical scan machine.

Voting on this system can only take place at the county elections office, and cannot be done from home or elsewhere. A special dedicated telephone line was installed at the elections office that connects to the system. The system only accepts calls from the elections office's line. The system does not store information or tally votes.

Voters can also practice voting from their homes before actually using the system to vote their ballot in the office. For more information regarding the practice system, call the elections office at 325-8511.

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