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Blind Tallahassee Man Makes History

As empowering as he says it was, not everyone's convinced it's a good thing.

Tallahassee attorney John Eagen has been voting for the past 30 years, having a friend or poll worker read the ballot to him and mark his choices, but this time he used a specially printed Braille ballot and he was able to vote alone for the first time.

John says, “It was empowering because I felt a part of the process for the first time. Not that had I had not been a part of the process before, but this time I actually had hands on and was actually marking my ballot myself."

The Leon County elections supervisor ordered 20 of the Braille ballots. Seven visually impaired voters wound up using them, but when it comes to Braille ballots, not everyone is on the same page.

Douglas Towne is blind and advises the state on the needs of disabled voters. He has serious reservations about Braille ballots saying they can be damaged in handling and jeopardize voters' privacy.

Douglas says, "Some time down the road we're going to see a statistic that says well, the blind people in Leon County, 87 percent of them voted this way and that's certainly starting to violate privacy."

John Eagen brushes those concerns aside saying voting by Braille is as private, or more so than voting by friend.

John says, "I'm sure the first black person that ever voted in Florida felt somewhat similar, the first woman that ever voted felt the same. I felt that I was. I had taken a great step forward to making sure a group of people in the state of Florida received their franchise, their right to vote."

This could be the first year and last year for Braille ballots in Leon County.

Ion Sancho says his office will spend about half a million dollars before 2006 so visually impaired voters can cast ballots with an audio voting machine.


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