Today we are celebrating the United Nations International Day of Rights for Persons with Disabilities. We have made great progress on the rights of persons with disabilities, but this year, with reduced access to healthcare during COVID, challenges with distance learning, and voting rights issues in the election, we see the need to continue our critical fight.
I am proud to be a part of a lawsuit that was filed today to ensure that blind people are provided with the accommodations they need to vote. I love Indiana and it has been my home for the majority of my life. It was my home before I lost my sight and it is my home now, after losing my sight. The Indiana Election Commission was made aware of the problems disabled voters face, but has not remedied them. The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Help America Vote Act guarantee that access to a private and independent ballot for voters with disabilities must be equal to that afforded voters without disabilities.
PD: Kristin and Zoe are representing the United States in a meeting at the State Department in 2017. Kristin is sitting on a chair, dressed in a formal blue-grey pantsuit, and smiling at the camera. Zoe is sitting on the ground at Kristin’s side, looking at the camera while wearing a USA themed bandana that reads “Zoe”. Behind them are several conference room chairs, a conference table, a few tabletop flags for various countries, and a TV screen that says “COMMUNITY OF DEMOCRACIES.”
Unfortunately, Indiana has one of the most restrictive absentee voting requirements for blind voters in the country. This is because people with certain disabilities are not allowed to fill out their own absentee vote-by-mail ballots under Indiana law. This means that the state of Indiana is forcing voters with vision disabilities to forfeit their rights to a private and independent ballot. These inequalities were magnified by the pandemic, forcing many disabled Hoosiers to put their lives at risk to vote.
Our lawsuit asks Indiana to get rid of the traveling board requirement and implement an online voting option. Federal law already requires Indiana to email ballots to military and overseas voters. It would be easy to adapt this system for voters with relevant disabilities, so that their vote could be at least partly private and independent. There are also lots of other ways to use the internet to create a private and independent way to cast a ballot. Several others states allow disabled voters to select candidates online including Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York City, Texas, Washington State, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, West Virginia, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Nevada, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.
It is disheartening to know that there are ways I could vote privately and independently from outside the United States, but do not have that option when I live in Indiana. I strongly believe that voting is the bedrock of our democracy. I have been a civil servant much of my life and almost daily witness the importance of civic engagement for our democracy to work. I have worked for years in the national security sector and know the importance of securing our cyber voting infrastructure. Military and overseas personnel have been using an online voting system for years and states already have experience ensuring the information is as safe as it can be. Ensuring that everyone has the right to vote should be prioritized alongside security, as it is for the military and other personnel. There are approximately 145.000 visually impaired Hoosiers, and making the vote accessible would have a significant impact on improving civic engagement and the functioning of democracy in out state.
Indiana can do better, and it has to, because it’s the law. I, and thousands of others, are looking forward to a more accessible vote in our next election.
Read the full complaint here: