February 19, 2021
The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
United States House Committee on House Administration
1401 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable John Sarbanes
United States House of Representatives
2370 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairperson Lofgren and Representative Sarbanes:
The National Federation of the Blind, the premier membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans, urges that H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, be amended with regard to requirements for ballot marking devices and the process of requesting, completing, and submitting vote-by-mail ballots.
As you may already know, ballot marking devices allow blind or print-disabled persons to accessibly and independently complete their ballot. These machines aren’t typically used by non-disabled voters, but they offer several advantages. Ballot marking devices eliminate stray marks, prevent voters from over voting and enable voters to change their selection before the ballot is printed. However, these machines will frequently print a paper ballot that differs in both size and content from traditional paper ballots. Because so few non-disabled voters use the ballot marking devices, the distinguishable ballot produced by the machine prevents blind and other disabled voters from having a secret ballot. To ensure that blind and print-disabled voters are able to cast both a secret and independent ballot, it is essential that H.R. 1 be amended to require a sufficient number of ballot marking devices in a polling location to be used by voters with and without disabilities.
Furthermore, more Americans than ever before are choosing to vote by mail; therefore, it is essential that blind Americans not be excluded from this opportunity. In that regard, H.R. 1 must be amended to ensure that the process for requesting, completing, and submitting a vote-by-mail ballot is nonvisually accessible. Ensuring the accessibility of vote-by-mail balloting will guarantee that blind Americans are able to exercise their right to vote in a safe and secure manner without having to wait in long lines and crowded areas for extended periods of time.
It is essential to incorporate the above amendments into the bill in order to guarantee that blind Americans are able to vote safely, independently, and secretly. If the National Federation of the Blind can be of assistance in any way, especially by utilizing the nonvisual access to voting practices and innovations that we have developed over the past decades, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind