Ohio Blind Voters Won’t Give Up on Online Absentee Ballots


An Ohio court recently said no to technology that would let people fill out absentee ballots online for the 2016 presidential election.  But registered voters with disabilities are not giving up.

The National Federation of the Blind and three blind Ohio voters—in a case called Hindel v. Husted—plan to appeal the ruling.

Blind voters need assistance from a third party to help them mark paper absentee ballots, and arranging for transportation to go to the polls can be difficult, the plaintiffs have argued.  But an accessible, online ballot-marking tool would allow them to vote absentee privately and independently, they said. 

On June 8, the plaintiffs requested that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio enter a final judgment on their claim so they can seek appellate review.   As of now, they can’t appeal because there is one remaining claim in the case: that the state’s voter services website is inaccessible.

There “is no just reason to delay appellate review of” the claim, they said.  “Plaintiffs’ meaningful access to absentee voting will continue to be denied—perhaps for several election cycles—until Plaintiffs can appeal the dismissal.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that an online ballot-marking tool is a reasonable accommodation in Maryland for blind voters. It remains to be seen if appellate review of the Hindel case will turn out differently. 

Either way, it doesn’t appear likely that the Ohio ruling will be overturned prior to this year’s election.  The court encouraged the parties to find an alternative method, such as Braille ballots.

But Braille ballots wouldn’t solve the problem, according to Daniel Goldstein, attorney for the plaintiffs and a partner at Brown Goldstein Levy in Baltimore. 

The number of blind people in the country who know how to read Braille has been steadily decreasing, Goldstein told Bloomberg BNA June 10.   On the other hand, the blind community has learned computer use nearly universally, he said.

“I am unaware of anyone in the blind community or any expert in voting or in blindness who would support such a solution and I am unaware of anything in the record that would support speculation about such a solution,” Goldstein said.

The New York Assembly passed legislation in May that would require absentee ballots for all elections to be made available in Braille upon request of a blind or visually impaired voter.  The bill awaits action in the state Senate.