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Visually Impaired Oregonians Face Barriers to Voting During COVID-19

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Oregon's May 19 primary could help officials work out any kinks in voting before the November general election. (Scott Van Blarcom/Adobe Stock)
Oregon's May 19 primary could help officials work out any kinks in voting before the November general election. (Scott Van Blarcom/Adobe Stock)
May 14, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon's vote-by-mail system is earning praise during the coronavirus pandemic, but some Oregonians still will need help to get their vote counted.

Tom Stenson, deputy legal director for Disability Rights Oregon, says people who are blind or have low vision usually get assistance filling out their ballots from the local county clerk's office, with staff sometimes coming to folks' houses.

"I'm concerned that voters who are blind or low vision will have a harder time getting the kind of assistance that they need because of restrictions or concerns about the virus," he states.

Stenson says his organization is thinking of next Tuesday's primary as a trial run for the general election, when coronavirus might still be impacting the state.

Disability Rights Oregon will be documenting what works and what doesn't so the system can be improved before November.

Stenson says people who are blind or have low vision are more likely to rely on family or friends because of the virus.

"But I'm sure there are people who will need assistance and I'm hoping that counties will do their best to provide it using as limited contact as possible, using PPE where it's available to make sure that people who need assistance in voting can get it," he states.

Stenson adds that the state is successfully maximizing the number of people that vote in its election.

"Oregon has a great system but it's not a perfect system, and we're constantly looking for ways to improve it," he states.

Election officials say people should mail their primary ballots by Thursday to ensure they get in by Election Day.

Voters also can deliver them to drop boxes through Tuesday.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR