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Blind Voters Sue State of Indiana to Improve Voting Access

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Some blind voters weren't able to vote in Indiana this year because they couldn't get an appointment with the traveling board of election officials due to the pandemic. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)
Some blind voters weren't able to vote in Indiana this year because they couldn't get an appointment with the traveling board of election officials due to the pandemic. (Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile)
December 23, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS -- A group of blind voters is suing to force the state of Indiana to make absentee balloting more accessible.

Blind voters now have only two options in Indiana: They can vote in person, using voting machines that read their choices aloud as they are made; or they can ask a pair of bipartisan election officials from the "traveling board" to come to their house and help them fill out the ballot.

Jelena Kolic, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, said other states provide special online voting options.

"They deserve to participate fully in our democracy, and to know that their vote is private and that it's being counted," she said. "And that didn't happen for some of the blind residents in Indiana this year."

That's because, during the pandemic, the traveling board failed to show up at some voters' homes. Voting in person is especially challenging for people with visual impairments, who have to touch a lot of surfaces in order to get around, raising the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson's office had no comment on the lawsuit.

Other states - including Delaware, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and West Virginia - have made changes to their absentee-balloting processes to accommodate people who are blind. The state of Maryland is offering its system to other states, free of charge. So, Kolic said she believes the holdup in Indiana isn't a matter of money.

"I imagine it's a question of political will, and it's at the expense of blind voters, however, and it's illegal," she said. "That's why we filed the lawsuit."

The suit contends the current absentee-voting rules in Indiana violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became federal law more than 30 years ago.

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Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - IN