Much like many aspects of my life, voting in an election has always presented its own unique slate of challenges as a visually impaired individual.

For some context, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 5, which damaged my optic nerve. This damage left me almost completely blind in my right eye, and with about 20/400 vision in my left eye. Thankfully, my vision has not worsened since that damage (I am now 29). However, I still cannot read small fonts or fill out paperwork on my own without assistive technology, like what you see pictured below.

Seth for Voting Story (assistive technology)

A college-aged Seth uses a CCTV to read one of his textbooks.

For the sake of this article, I specifically bring up paperwork, being that ballots are not the easiest thing for me to fill out. For example, I had an instructional assistant who helped me fill out the bubbles in ISTEP tests throughout my grade school years. And even today, I still struggle to fill out the tip on a receipt without help from a friend or loved one.

In previous elections, I’ve typically shown up at my polling place in Fountain Square, where I inform the polling volunteers that I am visually impaired. By no fault of their own, the poll workers on site aren’t always equipped to help someone who’s visually impaired, and this has regularly led to uncomfortable moments where I’m holding up a line while they figure out how to best assist me.

With 2020 being such a pivotal election year, I wanted to do all I could to make sure my vote was cast with as few issues as possible. For this reason, I went ahead and called the Marion County Election Board (MCEB) on Oct. 21 and explained my situation to them.

Heading into this phone call, I wanted to make sure I’d have assistance filling out my ballot at the City-County Building, if I did go there as part of Marion County’s in-person early voting. After consulting with other members of her team at MCEB, however, the phone representative I spoke with could not 100% assure me that this assistance would be available at the City-County Building, taking this option off the table for me.

Next, we discussed how I still had time to apply for an absentee ballot, which I could then fill out at home and deliver in person to the City-County Building. This option seemed suitable, especially considering I could use my assistive technology at home to fill out the ballot on my own. The main issue here, however, was relying on the United States Postal Service, which seemed a bit iffy.  

Finally, the MCEB employee mentioned that I could call Go Vote Indy who offers assistance with voting in Indianapolis including rides to the polls. I chose to tuck this option in my back pocket, in case I did not receive my absentee ballot in time. In the future, I will certainly consider them if I ever have any voting-related inquiries or roadblocks.

Much to my delight, my absentee ballot arrived in the mail just a few days after I requested it. After filling it out, I had no trouble riding the Red Line downtown to the City-County Building, where I was able to drop the ballot off in one of their monitored bins. In future elections, I will likely go with this route, as it was efficient and easy, while also allowing me to avoid any obstacles or awkwardness caused by my visual impairment.

In jumping through all of these hoops, however, I can’t help but think: Why does it have to be this hard? Shouldn’t voting be easy for everyone? I believe these questions apply not only to me as a visually impaired citizen of the United States, but to so many others as well.

Let’s hope we continue to see more improvements in future years when it comes to voter accessibility.

Brent Terhune is much more than the MAGA impersonator he plays on the internet

Seth Johnson can be reached by email at sjohnson@nuvo.net, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.