Letter to Indiana Secretary of State, Demanding that the Blind be Able to Vote from Home

Office of the Indiana Secretary of State
200 W. Washington St., Room 201 Indianapolis, IN 46204

Secretary of State Lawson and Election Administrators:
The American Council of the Blind of Indiana and the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana, jointly and together, on behalf of Indiana’s community of people who are blind, request a face-to-face meeting at your earliest convenience. We would like to meet with the Secretary of State, the HAVA Administrator, and other decision makers within the Indiana Election Division and Indiana Election Commission.

We are interested in the option of accessible absentee remote voting. As other citizens of Indiana are asking for the opportunity to vote by mail. Our people request to expand our options to vote accessibly, privately, and independently. There are thousands of blind, visually impaired and print disabled citizens of the State of Indiana who value their right to vote privately and independently. To ensure that Indiana is inclusive rather than exclusive we are taking action to guarantee that an accessible absentee remote vote solution is available this year for the upcoming Federal general election and beyond. The current coronavirus emergency cannot be used as an excuse to erode the voting rights of people with all disabilities.

As we all rethink how elections can be administered now and into the future, the rights of voters with disabilities, particularly those who are blind utilizing accessible technologies, must be preserved. This includes equal access to all parts of the voting process, from registering to vote, to absentee voting, to securely and independently marking, verifying, and casting a ballot in a “Vote by Mail” or remote voting environment.

An advocate review of the most recent Introduced Indiana Senate Bill 174 found it very troublesome- allowing anyone who wants to vote by mail to do so except voters who cannot mark a paper ballot independently.
To comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for online access, and meet requirements of the Help America Vote Act, and the Voting Rights Act, legislation would need to adopt the language recently signed into law in West Virginia, that authorized the modification of their online absentee ballot requesting system into a fully accessible online voting process for people who are blind or visually impaired that allows for the voter to request, obtain, read, mark, verify, cast, and submit the ballot to the designated election official online independently and privately.

Blind and Disability related organizations worked with the Secretary of State’s office in West Virginia, primarily with: Donald “Deak” Kersey, General Counsel, Elections — 866-767-8683; dkersey@wvsos.gov Link to West Virginia bill that became law

There is no nationwide approach to creating an accessible “Vote by Mail” ballot program. The closest equivalent to a “Vote by Mail” program would be an absentee ballot program. Some states have implemented successful “Vote by Mail” programs based on an accessible online absentee ballot voting model.

In mid-April 2020, a coalition of national, state, and local disability and civil rights related organizations sent a letter to Congress, urging Congress to protect the voting rights of people who are blind and disabled during the current pandemic.
The letter
urged Congress to mandate an accessible online absentee voting system to be used by any state adopting “Vote by Mail” as an alternative to in-person elections at polling locations. Americans with disabilities have fought for decades to secure the same voting rights as all other Americans. Our message to Congress is clear that in states implementing “Vote by Mail” programs without offering an accessible online absentee voting alternative for people with disabilities is not going to be acceptable to the community of people with disabilities.

There are some other solutions to the accessibility issue, using remote ballot marking equipment within polling places or designated voting locations. However, these options require the person with the disability to go to a specific location, and they then lose the safety, security, and convenience of marking their ballot at home like other citizens using the “Vote by Mail” program in the state.

Other accessible absentee online voting systems currently in use across the country include:
1. Democracy Live — The main product they promote for accessible absentee voting is called OmniBallot. It has now been certified by multiple states according to their website.
2. Voatz — This product includes a smart phone app. The mobile phone voting platforms have been reported to be extremely easy to use from an accessibility perspective.
3. The ruling in National Federation of the Blind et al. vs. Linda H. Lamone et al. upheld a lower court ruling requiring the state of Maryland to make an accessible online ballot-marking tool available to blind voters who wished to vote by absentee ballot.

In several states judicial remedies are being utilized to protect and preserve voting access for voters who are blind to an accessible voting process. American Council of the Blind of New York: and other Blind and disability advocacy organizations, submitted a voting rights accessibility complaint against the State of New York to the U.S. Department of Justice for immediate review. The complaint highlights the discrimination brought about by inaccessible absentee voting. The right to vote via absentee ballot has long been a goal of the blind community but has been amplified considering the coronavirus crisis. There has also been filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.

New York Governor Cuomo implemented an Executive Order mandating that state residents must mark an absentee ballot on paper. This action prevents New York residents who are blind from voting privately and independently. This complaint affirms that just as all other New York residents have the right to vote via an absentee ballot, New York must provide an accessible voting method that blind residents can use remotely as well.

There are safe, effective methods for voters with disabilities to cast a private, independent absentee ballot, and the complaint urges the Department of Justice to instruct Governor Cuomo and the New York Board of Elections that they must implement reasonable accommodations consistent with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for the New York primary election in late June. See the press releases:
ACB and Other Disability Advocacy Organizations Bring Voting Rights Complaint before Department of Justice
Agreement Reached for New York’s June Accessible Absentee Voting Program
Disability Advocates File Complaint Against the State of New York’s Inaccessible Mail-In Only Absentee Voting Executive Order

Michigan: a Federal Court in Detroit, Michigan has approved a consent decree that orders the State of Michigan to provide accessibility for their “Vote by Mail” Program for their accessible absentee ballots to blind Michigan voters in all future election. Blind voters will have an opportunity to request an absentee ballot typically reserved for military personnel or citizens who are out of the country. The lawsuit says Michigan is violating federal disabilities law by offering only traditional paper ballots to blind voters. Press releases:
Blind Michigan Voters Win Groundbreaking Lawsuit
Interim deal reached in election lawsuit by blind voters

In summary. According to the CDC, 26% of Americans have a disability. The American Council of the Blind of Indiana and the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana will continue to work tirelessly on this issue to ensure that all Indiana registered voters with disabilities are able to fully participate in the most fundamental part of our democracy for the 2020 election, and beyond. We will collectively identify an electronic, online process that will provide access to absentee ballot for blind and disabled Indiana citizens for the general election in November. We look forward to sharing our research with you and to your leadership positions to insist that any “Vote by Mail” program will guaranty that people who are blind or visually impaired will be able to vote privately, independently, verifiably, and safely as well.

We look forward to meeting with the Secretary of State’s office and others to further this conversation to identify a solution.
Please let us know of your earliest availability to meet with us on this vitally important issue.

Sincerely,
Dee Ann Hart, Chair — Advocacy and Awareness Committee — American Council of the Blind of Indiana
Phone: 765-215-1211 | Email Dee Ann Hart

Barbara Salisbury, President — American Council of the Blind of Indiana
Phone: 812-369-0355 — email Barbara Salisbury www.acb-indiana.org

Ron Brown, President — National Federation of the Blind of Indiana
Phone: 317-213-7031 — Email Ron Brown

Pam Schnurr, First Vice President — National Federation of the Blind of Indiana
Phone: 317-504-5282 — Email Pam Schnurr www.nfb-in.org

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