Disability Groups Say New York’s Absentee Ballots Discriminate

Online voting systems allow people with disabilities to vote independently and privately. Photo credit: Dob’s Farm/Adobe Stock.

NEW YORK — A federal lawsuit claims many people with disabilities are being excluded from New York state’s expanded absentee ballot program.

To help keep voters safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York is allowing anyone to apply for an absentee ballot that can be mailed in rather than going to the polls. But many people with visual or physical disabilities such as paralysis, dystonia and tremors cannot independently and privately mark a paper ballot.

According to Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, New York already has an alternative system that could work.

“People in the armed services and Americans overseas already can vote by an email ballot that is sent to them,” she said.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, seeks reforms to voting practices in time for the June 23 primary election.

Dooha noted that at least six other states have online absentee voting procedures that work for people who are blind or have low vision, or who cannot use their hands to fill in a paper ballot.

“We believe that is easily within reach,” she said. “Maryland has offered us their solution, as it has to other states.”

Other states that already have online absentee voting include Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and West Virginia.

Dooha pointed out that accessible voting has been an issue in New York for decades. For people with disabilities, she said, voting is more important now than ever.

“This is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she said. “What better way to celebrate than to enfranchise New Yorkers with disabilities?”

The court filing is online at dropbox.com.

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