Audio, touch screen or provisional ballot – everyone votes at Athens precinct 4A

Online Athens 11.08.2016

During the first hours, only a few voters turned up at the Athens Transit Multi-Modal Transport Center.

One of the first was Marie Stafford, 55, who came by on her way to work but went away disappointed. According to the poll worker at the check-in desk, she is actually registered at Precinct 8C, on Barnett Shoals Road, and they asked her to head to East Athens.

Stafford was definitely not happy, and speculated she’d been sent away “because they know I’m going to vote for Hillary.”

A minute later, Jerrie Toney, 62, arrived. Toney is legally blind and got a ride to the polling place with a friend.

Poll workers quickly set up adaptable equipment, including audio devices and headphones to allow Toney to vote.

“I think it’s more work for them than it is me because they usually have to set it up,” she said. The equipment is packed away until a visually impaired voter arrives, then poll workers quickly set it up. Toney gets up early on Election Day and is glad the equipment is available.

“At least I can vote on my own, I don’t have to depend on anyone helping me vote,” she said. “It’s very simple, self-explanatory and, if your used to using the audio devices, then voting is not difficult.”

Elise Laudry, 29, was another satisfied voter. Although this was her first time voting at the Athens Transit Multi-Modal Transport Center, everything went smoothly.

“It was easier than in the past, the lines were shorter,” she said. Laudry has voted in other elections and at different polling places, and says her voting experiences have been “pretty much” perfect.

Wyukia Coleman, the poll manager of precinct 4A, has been working at the polls on and off since the early eighties. As well as assisting voters with disabilities, such as Toney, Coleman troubleshoots whatever else comes up regarding registration and casting ballots.

“It pretty much goes smoothly on regular elections,” she said. “This one today is going smoothly.”

One of the most common problems is that a person has moved but failed to change where they’re registered to vote. Sometimes Coleman and her team can resolve the problem by sending the voter to their correct polling place. If they’re registered at a distant location, however, the poll workers set them up with a provisional ballot.

Regardless of their personal voting experience, everyone agrees that exercising their right to vote is what counts.

“I believe it’s important to at least have a say,’ said Toney, who voted using special audio equipment. “I think everyone should go out and vote.”

Athens naturalized citizen takes her voting rights seriously

Online Athens 30.10.2016

Raquel Bartra, 41, moved to the United States from Paraguay when she was 16 and became a citizen at 24. Since then, she’s always cast her vote in presidential election years.

When Bartra first became a citizen, she struggled with English and didn’t always understand what she was voting for. She relied on friends for advice.

“Back then all my friends were telling me vote Republican, so I would vote in the poll when it was only presidential elections, just pick Republican even though I have no clue about what they were saying on all the issues.”

It also took Bartra longer to realize there was more on the ballot than the contest for the presidency.

Bartra improved her language skills and became involved with the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services. Susan Wilson, director of the center, understands how hard it can be for new immigrants to understand the U.S. political system.

“They might feel like if they don’t have strong skills in English that they might not understand all the information that’s out there,” she said about elections.

Like Bartra, many ALCES clients think voting is all about the presidential election. Wilson wants them to know other elected officials also make decisions that affect them, and policy initiatives are also important.

“There’s quite a few amendments to the state constitution that are being voted on this time around that are going to have a huge impact on people’s day to day lives, so it’s really important for people to know,” she said.

Being able to vote is a hard-won prize.

“The folks that I’ve seen working towards their citizenship do work really hard for it,” said Wilson.

Elected officials know naturalized citizens take voting seriously.

“It is probably more important to them because of what they had to go through to become a citizen,” said Harry Sims, a Clarke County Commissioner

As for Bartra, she’s become more engaged with U.S. politics and more confident about making her own decisions.

“I was very naïve just to vote whatever I was told,” she said. “I don’t do that anymore, I know better.”

Bartra uses the internet to prepare. “Now I’m an informed voter, I go and I read what each candidate is saying and I don’t vote for a particular party, I vote for the issues that concern me.”