Letter to Senators Klobuchar and Merkley Regarding the S. 1 (April 1, 2021)

April 1, 2021

Senator Amy Klobuchar 
United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
425 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Jeff Merkley
United States Senate
531 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairwoman Klobuchar and Senator Merkley:

The National Federation of the Blind, the premier membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans, urges that the For the People Act of 2021 (S. 1) 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 are typically not 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 style 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 S. 1 be amended, so that ballot-marking devices are not restricted to only voters with disabilities. We propose striking the existing language in Section 1503(a) and replacing it with: 

(a) IN GENERAL. —Section 301(a)(3)(B) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21081(a)(3)(B)) is amended to read as follows:
“(B) satisfy the requirement of subparagraph (A) through the use of at least two direct recording electronic voting systems or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities at each polling place and:
(i) the use of such voting systems shall not be restricted to voters with disabilities and must be actively and specifically offered as a voting method to all voters, regardless of whether the voter does or does not have a disability; and
(ii) all state board of elections must conduct training of poll workers on the use and operation of such voting systems and on the policy that poll workers must actively and specifically offer such voting systems to all voters, regardless of whether the voter does or does not have a disability.”

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, S. 1 must be amended to ensure that the process for requesting, completing, and submitting a vote-by-mail ballot is nonvisually accessible. S. 1 currently states in Section 1101: “Rule of Construction. — Nothing in this section may be construed to allow the marking or casting of ballots over the internet." We urge that this “Rule of Construction” be stricken and replaced with the following: “Rule of Construction. — Nothing in this law shall be construed to limit or alter a state’s obligations under Section 301(a)(3)(A) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended.” This would ensure that Congress is preserving the accessibility requirements of these two landmark laws. 

Ensuring the accessibility of in-person and 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 privately, independently, and secretly. Without these amendments to the bill, Congress would be reversing decades of progress in voting rights for Americans with disabilities. If the National Federation of the Blind can be of assistance in any way, especially by utilizing the nonvisual access to voting best practices and innovations we have developed over the past decades, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are fully prepared to help in any way that we can, in order to guarantee that all Americans, especially blind Americans, can confidently participate in our electoral democracy.  

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind