IN MIDST OF PRIMARIES, BLIND VOTERS KEEP FIGHTING FOR ONLINE BALLOTS

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As people head to the primary polls in a number of states today to privately cast votes for the 2016 presidential candidates, others are fighting for the opportunity to vote privately from home.

The National Federation of the Blind and three blind registered voters in Ohio want the state to implement online absentee ballot-marking technology that would enable blind and visually-impaired voters to privately and independently mark their ballots.

Marking paper absentee ballots requires third-party assistance, and arranging for transportation to go to the polls has been difficult in prior elections, the plaintiffs argued in a Dec. 7, 2015 complaint.  They allege that a failure to provide an online alternative denies blind users an equal opportunity to vote absentee in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted replied that the state’s existing absentee voting system protects voter privacy because any person giving assistance is bound by Ohio law to keep the vote confidential.  Section 3505.24 of the Ohio Revised Code provides that “[a]ny person providing assistance in the marking of an elector's ballot under this section shall thereafter provide no information in regard to the marking of that ballot.”

The plaintiffs responded Feb. 29 that simply requiring those who give assistance to maintain secrecy doesn’t protect privacy.  “The voter’s privacy is invaded the moment she must share her selections with any other individual—an invasion of privacy no other voter must endure when voting absentee,” they said.

“For blind voters, Secretary Husted argues that voting that is neither private nor independent is good enough,” the plaintiffs added. “‘Good enough’, however, is not the standard.”

With a trial scheduled for April 25, there’s no chance of resolution before Ohio’s March 15 presidential primaries. The plaintiffs are hoping, though, that the matter will be resolved in their favor by the time the Nov. 8 general election rolls around.