I am a blind Utahn and I’m proud to be part of a strong blind community that is socially, politically and economically independent. Blind people use adaptive methods to live independently every day and in every possible way, and the last two decades have been particularly impactful on our community with incredible innovations in smartphones and intuitive voice recognition.
There are 50,000 Utahns and 1 million Americans like me. However, every time I try to vote, the process does not reflect the way I live the rest of my life, and instead is unnecessarily difficult. The disconnect is unacceptable.
It’s difficult for our interests to be represented among lawmakers, in good part because our ability to vote has been stymied. Every time I’ve had to vote, my wife has to take the day off to drive me to an ADA compliant polling booth or help me complete my mail-in-ballot at home. With the first option, this is a huge inconvenience and this year dangerous because of the pandemic, and in the second option, I am forced to give up my fundamental right to a secret ballot.
But this year I had the opportunity to experience a different way to vote. I was able to cast my ballot on my phone through the Voatz app at the Utah GOP convention along with my fellow delegates. It made an incredible difference. Not only were we all able to vote safely and privately, the convention saw record participation with more than 90% of the delegates voting. All of them cast a secret ballot from home without the risk of COVID-19.
I’ve shared my experience publicly in the last couple of weeks. After my appearance on KSL TV, I was thrilled to hear that Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Mike Winder introduced legislation — Senate Bill 49 — to help municipalities launch mobile voting pilot programs.
I am proud to play the role of a catalyst for these pilots. They not only help members of the blind community who’ve been fighting for decades to have our voices heard, they will also open voting access to rural communities, our brave service members who are deployed overseas and some 70,000 LDS missionaries scattered across the world every year. These are Utah’s ambassadors to the world. Denying them the right to vote is unconscionable.
People wonder if it is safe to vote online. I worry like everyone else. When I voted during the conventions, using the Voatz app, I was taken through a security process, I could check on the status of my vote, and I could even go back and have my ballot read back to me to confirm the app has captured my vote as I intended.
I believe in choices. I believe people should have the ability to vote at a polling station, from home, and have the option to vote from their phone. Our forefathers fought for our right to vote. The disabled community is continuing this fight. If lawmakers really aim to have our voices heard, it should not be this hard to vote.
I urge Bramble and Winder, on behalf of my community, to open the doors to true voter access. Nothing would make Utahans prouder than to see our state chart the course of the rest of the country. We have always led the way and this should come as a surprise to no one.
Democracy only works when all Americans can engage in their civic duty regardless of their physical ability.
Jeff Smith lives in Farmington and is very active in the blind community. He was an insurance agent for 17 years before he lost his sight in 2002.