UTAH COUNTY, Utah – Most days begin about the same for Jeff Smith. He makes sure to squeeze in time in the home gym and tries to eat healthy. Smith is really like most Americans, except he is completely blind.
“It’s called retinitis pigmentosa,” Smith explained.
It’s a hereditary disease that slowly stole his sight.
“Usually, it starts out in the periphery and slowly works its way in until it’s like you’re looking through a tube,” he said.
Smith has had to relearn just about everything in his life
“You know, things like brushing your teeth, finding clothes to wear,” Smith said. “I probably don’t match very well here today.”
Technology has become like a best friend.
“I use technology from the moment I get up from probably the moment I go to sleep,” Smith said.
This past election cycle, he tried something for the first time.
“Anything new or different to a blind person is scary,” Smith said.
He voted entirely on his mobile phone using an app called “Voatz”
His county was among several in the country participating in the pilot program. The pilot program was for voters who are either disabled or overseas at the time of the election.
“My county has historically been a bit of a mess when it came to elections,” said Utah County clerk Amelia Gardner Powers.
Gardner Powers decided to try and clean things up.
“We deliver your ballot to you on your phone, you mark your preferences on your phone and then you submit it back to us,” Gardner Powers said. “We actually print off your ballot using a ballot printer and run those through the scanner with all of our other ballots.”
She says the response has been phenomenal, especially in a year like 2020
“People’s access to the polls has been limited. Just think of all the things that have happened like hurricanes, flooding, wildfires,” Gardner Powers said.
And of course, a global pandemic. Those in quarantine or afraid of exposure could vote at home.
“Their voter registration went from single digits to high double digits,” said Jonathan Johnson.
Johnson knows a thing or two about elections and technology. He ran for governor in the state of Utah and is now the CEO of Overstock.com. Johnson is urging community leaders to give the tech a try so more people can vote.
“Once a vote is put into blockchain technology, it doesn’t change. It’s not just one database that can be hacked and changed, it’s put into a kind of distributed database so if one is changed, all the others are not,” Johnson explained.
Think of it like multiple virtual safety deposit boxes holding your vote.
“This is safe and secure,” Johnson said. “It’s more secure than just showing your license when you show up at a junior high school gymnasium.”
For Smith, it means voting without any help.
“Well, this is the United States of America,” Smith said. “Voting is a patriotic thing to me. It is a blessing to be able to participate in the political process.”
Smith may have lost his sight, but when it now comes to voting? He has gained his independence.