Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

New Voting Laws Praised by Advocates, Reignite Security Debates

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

A spate of new state laws across the country has allowed voters with vision loss to cast and, in some cases, return their ballots electronically. In many instances this is a response to lawsuits filed by advocates for the blind and visually impaired (BVI) community, claiming that current mail-in ballot options are inaccessible. Blind voters are not the first to be given this opportunity; it has been available to overseas and military voters for over a decade. In a GBH article reporting that Blind and low-vision voters hail Massachusetts’ new statewide online voting option, Kim Charlson, executive director of the Perkins Library at Perkins School for the Blind, stated, “‘I’m just delighted at the ease of voting, and the privacy of being able to do it independently and submit my ballot and know I’m all set. It makes me feel good about the democratic process. […] I think the disability community takes [voting] very seriously because we had to kind of fight the fights to get to have the opportunity to vote privately and independently.’” Massachusetts is now one of some 25 states that allow the electronic return of ballots. New York, on the other hand, requires the voter to print out the marked ballot and return it in an envelope, as noted in a Gothamist article entitled ‘We don’t read print’: Blind voters say new accessible ballot measures fall short.  Advocates say this isn’t enough, especially in light of the results of a survey from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and Rutgers University, which found that 67 percent of respondents with a disability have access to a printer, compared with 82 percent of those without disabilities. Other states chose a similar system to New York’s, but have changed to fully electronic return after continued activism. New York’s present implementation seems to be a compromise answer to the age-old debate between accessibility and security. Juan Gilbert, chairman of the computer, information science and engineering department at the University of Florida, noted, “‘If you think about it, the most secure thing in the world, whatever it is, is going to be the most inaccessible thing, just by definition.’” For now, though, the tide appears to be turning somewhat toward access, at least for voters with visual impairments. Read more in the FiveThirtyEight article: New Laws Let Americans With Disabilities Vote Online. They’ve Also Resurrected The Debate About Voting Access vs. Election Security.