Alabama Challenged in Court for Denying Accessible Absentee Voting Ballots to the Blind and People with Print Disabilities!
Litigation asserts Alabama violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by relying on printed paper ballots and failing to provide an accessible absentee voting option for blind and print-disabled voters.
MONTGOMERY – TODAY the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP), and Brown Goldstein & Levy, on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama (NFB-AL) and individual Alabamians, filed litigation against the Alabama Secretary of State for denying voters who are blind or have print disabilities access to the state’s absentee ballot program in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA).
To remedy these violations, the Secretary of State must offer accessible electronic ballots that these voters can read and mark on their own computers or smart devices using their own assistive technology. Currently, Alabama relies exclusively on paper ballots for absentee voting.
“The Secretary of State is denying blind voters and voters with print disabilities the right to vote privately and independently by absentee ballot,” said Liza Weisberg, voting rights staff attorney with SPLC. “The remedy is clear: the Secretary of State must implement an accessible electronic absentee voting program, so that the blind voters and voters with print disabilities can enjoy an equal opportunity to vote absentee and have an equal say in how their communities are governed.”
“The right to vote absentee is critical to all Alabamians, but especially to those who are blind or have print disabilities and face heightened barriers to in-person voting in the form of transportation challenges, untrained poll workers, and inaccessible voting technology,” said William Van Der Pol, senior trial counsel with ADAP. “It is thus essential that the Secretary of State provide the blind voters and voters with print disabilities the option to vote absentee using an accessible electronic ballot delivery and return system.”
“Alabama’s current absentee ballot program requires the blind and voters with print disabilities to secure another person’s help to read and mark their ballots,” said Eve Hill, partner at Brown Goldstein & Levy. “That requirement is unlawful. Alabama has the means and the legal duty to provide ballots electronically to, and accept marked ballots electronically from, voters who are blind or have a print disability.”
“Blind Alabamians have an equal right to vote and to advocate for the needs of our communities, but the inaccessible absentee voting system in Alabama has denied us that right and diminished our voice in government,” said Barbara Manuel, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. “It is high time the Secretary of State’s office let us, and voters with print disabilities, use electronic ballots for absentee voting.”
Alabama law specifically and explicitly permits voters with disabilities to vote absentee, but the ballot is provided to absentee voters living in the U.S. only in paper form. Alabama law also guarantees “every voter in Alabama … the right to vote a secret ballot, and that ballot shall be kept secret and inviolate.” Al. Code § 17-6-34
Alabama voters receive three envelopes with their absentee ballot: a “secrecy” envelope, an “affidavit” envelope, and a pre-addressed “outer” envelope. Once a voter receives the absentee or mail-in ballot and three envelopes in the mail, the voter must complete the following steps:
1. Locate the envelope sent to the voter’s address, which contains the ballot, “secrecy” envelope, “affidavit” envelope, and “outer” envelope;
2. Open the envelope and identify the ballot, the “secrecy” envelope, “affidavit” envelope, and “outer” envelope;
3. Read the ballot and fill it out by hand using a pen;
4. Place and seal the completed ballot inside the “secrecy” envelope;
5. Place the “secrecy” envelope inside the “affidavit” envelope;
6. Seal the “affidavit” envelope and complete the affidavit printed on the outside;
7. Sign the affidavit and have the signature witnessed by either a notary public or two witnesses 18 years of age or older;
8. Place and seal the “affidavit” envelope inside the pre-addressed “outer” envelope;
9. Place the “outer” envelope in the mail.
The litigation asserts that Alabama excludes blind and print disabled Alabamians from absentee voting because it forces them to seek another person’s assistance in order to complete this complex process, which makes use of printed materials that are inaccessible to those who are blind or have print disabilities.
By requiring blind and print disabled voters to seek another person’s assistance to complete a paper ballot, Alabama’s absentee ballot system forces Plaintiffs to forfeit their right to vote privately and independently when voting absentee. Because individuals without disabilities may cast their votes by absentee ballot privately and independently, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require Alabama to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to do the same.
To vote privately and independently by absentee ballot, blind voters and voters with print disabilities need an accessible electronic ballot that they can read and mark on their own computers or smart devices using their own assistive technology. Blind people and people with print disabilities can independently access and interact with printed materials only when they are offered in an electronic format that can be used with a screen reader. Screen reader software reads aloud, or displays on a refreshable Braille display, the visual information on the electronic page.