Voters with disabilities score big win in settlement with BOE over vote-by-mail accessibility

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Under an ADA lawsuit settlement, the state’s Board of Elections will be required to provide a vote-by-mail service for voters with disabilities.
Photo Alexander F Yuan/AP

On Tuesday, the state Board of Elections settled a 2020 Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit with a host of disability organizations and will now create a statewide program allowing blind and disabled voters to fill out a remote, accessible vote-by-mail ballot online.

Disability rights groups — including The National Federation of the Blind of New York State, American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc., Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York and Disability Rights New York — took legal action the state’s BOE in May in a bid to make absentee voting accessible for voters with disabilities by the state’s June 28 primary.

The legal matter which was under the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York alleged the BOE violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing an accessible absentee voting system.

Under the settlement, the state BOE is required to choose a remote accessible vote-by-mail system that allows blind people and people with print disabilities to use their own computers to read and mark a ballot using their own screen-reader software that converts the ballot content into spoken words or into Braille displayed on a connected device.

“This ruling affirms that the right to vote is something that all people regardless of disability status should be able to fully exercise as their civil duty. It will provide absentee voters access via an electronic platform for people with a myriad of disabilities, including but not limited to, visual, learning, and physical,” said Sharon McLennon-Wier, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “This is a great step forward in making sure that New Yorkers with disabilities are able to successfully cast their votes.”

State BOE must also create a statewide portal that voters can use to request an accessible absentee ballot and train each of the 58 county boards of elections on the use of the selected system.

The county boards of elections will provide return envelopes for the ballots, just as they do for paper absentee ballots. The inside oath envelope into which the ballot is to be placed must have a tactile marking indicating where it is to be signed, and state BOE will instruct county boards of elections to accept a signature anywhere on the envelope. County boards will also be required to help voters who do not have their own printers to facilitate the printing of their ballots.

State BOE will also pay attorney’s fees and costs of $400,000. Plaintiffs were represented by Disability Rights New York, Disability Rights Advocates and Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

“DRNY is pleased that the absentee voting program is now more accessible. Through this agreement, the New York State Board of Elections has made it easier for people with print disabilities to vote with greater privacy and independence.  All voters need access to vote in order to have their voice heard in their local, state and federal elections,” said Timothy A. Clune, executive director, Disability Rights New York.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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