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Boro courts disabled voters

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Disabled residents took priority in My Vote Counts, a new initiative the borough president introduced to help increase the participation of voters with disabilities.

Borough President Helen Marshall's office joined with the city Elections Board and the Queens Council for Disabilities to launch My Vote Counts at Borough Hall July 8.

"We want everyone to vote, disabled or not," said Antonina Mioni, administrative assistant for the Elections Board's Voter Registration Department.

My Vote Counts set the goal for signing up 5,000 disabled individuals to vote this year.

It is a mark that Charlie Hope, co-chairman of the Advisory Council of Individuals with Disabilities within the borough president's office, said was easily attainable for the 20-member group.

"We're distributing voter registration forms on the street, at community events and even attached them on the back of Medicare applications," he said.

There are about 70,000 individuals with disabilities in Queens, including individuals with mental health and developmental disabilities and active seniors with disabilities, Hope said.

"Here we have a non-partisan way to reach consumers who may be disabled but have the cognitive ability to make a decision about officials who will affect their life."

At the My Vote Counts meeting, the Elections Board also introduced new voting machines tailored for people with hearing, seeing and other dexterity disabilities that will be used this election season.

Operating time can run from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the number of candidates, an increase from the three minutes it usually takes to vote with the lever machines.

Shirley Lee, an Elections Board clerk, was trained to use the machine and said the Ballot Marking Device was "very easy, you just have to take your time to use it."

Hope, also co-chairman of the Queens Council for Developmental Disabilities, said he personally disagreed with the efficiency of the new machines.

He said he understood consumers' right to exercise their independence, "but it's simple logistics" and the new machines would not be efficient in terms of processing a large number of voters in a day.

On Aug. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. the board is holding a public demonstration on how to use the BMD at Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd.

Olivette Williams, 41, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and attended the sessionin her wheelchair, she she would go to the Flushing event Aug. 4.

The Flushing resident said her voting experience has always been a smooth one, but she worried about complaints that some voting sites were not handicap accessible.

Mioni assured her that before any location is chosen by the Elections Board "everything is measured down to the tee so that walkers and wheelchairs are able to enter the voting site."

According to the Board of Education, all 310 voting sites in Queens are handicap accessible, except PS 2 on 7 21st Ave.

Registration deadlines for the Sept. 9 primary is Aug. 15; the deadline for the Nov. 4 election is Oct. 10.

The My Vote Counts initiative stems from the Help America Vote Act, a federal law that was instituted in 2002 to make voting less difficult for citizens with disabilities.

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