Bexar County Residents with Disabilities Sue for Accessible Mail-In Ballots
San Antonio – Larry Johnson is a resident of San Antonio and a registered voter in Bexar County. He is also totally blind. Since he is eligible to vote absentee in the state of Texas due to his disability, he has done so in the past, but he has had to have a sighted person help him fill out his ballot, compromising its rightful secrecy. He has asked Bexar County’s election administrator several times, both by phone and in writing, for an accommodation so that he can fill out his absentee ballot privately and independently using an electronic ballot, as voters who are serving in the military can do. Despite his efforts, the county has refused to make the already-existing system available to Mr. Johnson and other blind voters who could use their own screen reader technology to read and mark the electronic ballots.
Mr. Johnson and two other blind voters, Wendy Walker and Amelia Pellicciotti, along with the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, have filed suit against Bexar County in federal court, alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Other federal courts have held that the ADA applies to all aspects of a jurisdiction’s voting program, including mail-in ballots specifically. The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Texas, Winston & Strawn, LLP, and Eve Hill of the Baltimore firm of Brown Goldstein & Levy.
“We have been trying to get accessible absentee ballots in Texas for nearly two years, but sadly jurisdictions in our state continue to disenfranchise blind voters and violate federal law,” said Norma Crosby, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. “We hope that Bexar County will be the first to adopt an accessible absentee-ballot system as a model for jurisdictions throughout the Lone Star State.”
“Blind voters are entitled to an independent and private ballot,” said Lia Sifuentes Davis, Senior Litigation Attorney for Disability Rights Texas. “Voters should not be forced to divulge their private ballot when technology exists that allows them to vote independently.”
“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with our colleagues at Disability Rights Texas, along with the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, to ensure that all Texans have equal access to the ballot,” said Winston & Strawn Partner Katy Preston. “These accommodations should be a priority for the County, and we’ll vigorously defend our clients’ essential right to vote.”
Chris Danielsen, Director of Public Relations, National Federation of the Blind, 410-262-1281
Lia Sifuentes Davis, Senior Litigation Attorney, Disability Rights Texas, 512-407-2763
Edie Surtees, Communications Director, Disability Rights Texas, 512-407-2739