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Blind LI woman votes on her own for the first time

Heidi Vandewinckel voted on her own for the

Heidi Vandewinckel voted on her own for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. The East Northport resident is blind, and in the past relied on her husband, Douglas Vandewinckel, to fill out her ballot. Credit: Courtesy of Douglas Vandewinckel

Heidi Vandewinckel was going to vote on her own, even if it took all day.

Fortunately, it only took an hour and a half for the East Northport resident, who has been blind since birth, to cast her ballot after the machine she was using malfunctioned on Tuesday.

“I said I’m not giving up, this is something I deserve to do and deserve to do alone,” Vandewinckel, 58, said.

In the past, Vandewinckel’s husband, Douglas, always marked her ballots for her, but she was determined to vote on her own for the first time this year. She wanted to use one of the machines for the visually impaired and called the board of elections about a week ago to make sure a machine would be available at her polling place.

The machine she used to vote at Fifth Avenue Elementary School had an option for all audio and a small video game-like controller with arrows so she could move between boxes on the ballot, she said. It took the polling staff a few minutes to figure out to how to work it, but Vandewinckel was still committed to using it.

“We get to the end and in the headphones it said, ‘Your ballot is complete,’ ” she said.

The only problem? The ballot never printed. Election workers struggled to figure out why, and eventually someone called a technician to come fix the machine, she said.

Douglas, 59, filled out his own ballot as they waited.

“You’re paying a high price for independence,” Douglas said, as the minutes ticked by.

“You know this is nothing compared to the price they paid in 1776,” Heidi Vandewinckel replied.

No one at the Suffolk County Board of Elections was able to comment on the issue on Tuesday evening.

Vandewinckel finally cast her ballot about 90 minutes after she first arrived to vote. She said she was lucky she changed her work schedule so she had the afternoon off.

She was proud to submit a ballot she filled out herself, no matter how long it took, she said. Vandewinckel declined to share her ballot choices.

“The thing that’s really important to me is doing what is my civil right,” Vandewinckel said. “For the first time, I was able to do it in the same way [as others] and independently and it was awesome.”


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