May 28, 2020•Press Release
Blind Voters in Pennsylvania Win Court Challenge On Road to Fully Accessible Mail-In Voting and Receive Immediate Relief for June 2 Primary Election
Blind Voters in Pennsylvania Win Court Challenge
On Road to Fully Accessible Mail-In Voting
and Receive Immediate Relief for June 2 Primary Election
For Immediate Release
May 28, 2020
Kelly Darr, Legal Director
Disability Rights Pennsylvania
(215) 238-8070 ext. 221
Harrisburg, PA | On May 27, 2020, a federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction requiring Pennsylvania to provide an accessible option to blind voters who want to vote by mail for the primary election on June 2.
The lawsuit, Joseph Drenth and the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania v. Secretary Kathryn Boockvar and the Department of State of Pennsylvania, 20-cv-00829 (M.D. Pa.), alleges that Pennsylvania violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act by denying equal access to the absentee and mail-in ballot process to blind voters. The paper ballots used by Pennsylvania do not allow blind votes to vote secretly and independently, like other voters, and instead requires them to rely on sighted third-parties for assistance.
This violation of blind voters’ civil rights is particularly harmful for the upcoming June 2, 2020 primary since blind voters, like many others, do not want to risk their health and that of their loved ones by voting in person in crowded polling places. Plaintiffs filed a motion to require Pennsylvania to adopt an interim solution to provide accessible absentee and mail-in ballots to blind voters so they can vote in the June 2 primary.
Following a hearing yesterday, the court determined that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits because they “have been denied the benefits of a public program – in this case the ability to vote privately and independently without being physically present at a polling location – because of their disability.” Mem. at 12. The court also held that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury without a preliminary injunction “because they are effectively forced to choose between forfeiting their right to vote privately and independently or risking their health and safety by traveling to a polling place to vote in person.” Mem. at 13.
To obtain an accessible write-in ballot, an individual must:
- Be an eligible Pennsylvania voter who applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot by the May 26, 2020, deadline and has not yet submitted their voted ballot.
- Submit an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org for the accessible write-in ballot by 8 p.m. on May 29, 2020. Include in the email the voter’s full name, date of birth and address where registered.
- Complete an accessible declaration electronically sent to them by the department and authenticate the declaration with a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license, a valid Pennsylvania state personal identification number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
The department will electronically transmit via email to the requesting voter: (1) an accessible write-in ballot; (2) an accessible declaration form; (3) accessible instructions; (4) an accessible candidate list for the voter’s election district; and (5) a write-in envelope.
Using their screen reader software, voters with disabilities can then vote in the privacy of their own homes, print their voted ballot and return it to their county elections office. Their county must receive their voted ballot by 8 p.m. on June 2. A postmark is not sufficient.
The lawsuit will continue, and Plaintiffs will press for an online ballot system that is fully accessible to blind voters for use in all future elections beginning in November 2020.
Kelly Darr, Legal Director for Disability Rights Pennsylvania and co-counsel with Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP for Plaintiffs, said that “We understand this is not an optimally accessible solution, but it is an option for blind voters to vote in secrecy and independently who otherwise might have had to vote in person – or forego voting altogether – during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania and their counsel expect to secure a fully accessible online ballot process in time for the November general election.”
If individuals have questions about the process, they can contact Disability Rights Pennsylvania by calling 800-692-7443 or email at email@example.com.
The Press Release from the Department of State can be found here.
For this Press Release in a PDF format, please click here.