Blind voters sue over New Hampshire absentee ballot system
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s absentee ballot system will force blind voters and those with other disabilities to sacrifice their privacy, safety or potentially both during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed against the state.
Disabilities Rights Center-New Hampshire sued Secretary of State William Gardner on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and its New Hampshire chapter, Granite State Independent Living, and three voters with disabilities. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, seeks to force the state to implement an accessible, electronic absentee voting system.
Every step of New Hampshire’s absentee voting program is inaccessible,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs are entitled to equal access to New Hampshire’s absentee voting program to vote privately, secretly, independently, and safely, as individuals without disabilities can.”
Absentee ballots typically are only available in limited circumstances, but the state is allowing anyone to use them for the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election if they have concerns about the virus. Special voting machines for people with disabilities will be available for those who vote in person, but both scenarios are problematic, according to the lawsuit.
For example, plaintiff Daniel Frye, who is blind, often asks his personal care attendants to fill out and sign forms for him. But he does not want to disclose his voting choices to them because it could affect their relationship if they disagree. But he’s also concerned about the safety of voting in person, because he can’t confirm whether others are wearing masks or gloves, or are maintaining adequate distance. In addition, “he has often been grabbed by strangers who assume he needs help when he does not,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, technology is in use across the country that allows voters with disabilities to register to vote and request, receive and return absentee ballots electronically, and nearly half the states allowed such returns as of September. More recently, New York was court-ordered to allow voters to request absentee ballots for its June 23 primary by email, receive the ballots and an envelope template over email, mark the ballots on their computers and print and return them by mail.
But Gardner, the secretary of state, said Wednesday that many computer scientists warn against using the Internet for any part of voting, and said many states that rushed to embrace technology have now gone back to paper-and-pencil voting. He said he shares the concerns of the plaintiffs about voting in person, however, and has been working with experts to explore possible solutions.
“We’re looking at this process that they believe is best,” he said. “We have been working to see what could be done that could be secret and secure.”
Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said the organization has offered assistance to no avail.
“We therefore bring this litigation to prevent the continued treatment of New Hampshire’s blind voters as second-class citizens.”