COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Several blind voters and an advocacy group for the blind sued Ohio’s elections chief on Monday over the accessibility of his website and paper absentee ballots in the swing state.
The federal lawsuit claims that Secretary of State Jon Husted has failed to ensure the rights of blind and disabled people to vote privately and independently, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Though Husted’s office says “vision-impaired voters have numerous opportunities to participate in elections.”
Ohio law allows residents to vote absentee by mail or in person without needing a reason. Voters also can change their voter registration information online and obtain certain forms through the secretary of state’s website.
The complaint alleges that the state’s paper absentee ballots are not accessible to blind people and residents with certain disabilities, who need another person to read and mark the ballots for them.
“Such assistance strips the individual plaintiffs of the secrecy of their ballots,” attorneys from Disability Rights Ohio wrote. The group filed the lawsuit in Columbus federal court on behalf of three Ohio voters and the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind.
Husted spokesman Josh Eck said each polling location in Ohio has a voting system that allows people to mark their ballot without needing anyone’s assistance. Republican and Democrat election officials also can help blind or disabled voters cast an absentee ballot from their home.
“Secretary Husted is more than happy to help explore additional opportunities for vision-impaired voters, but any significant modification to the current system would require approval from the state legislature before our office could begin implementation,” Eck said in an email.
The complaint also alleges that Husted is failing to provide blind and disabled voters with equal access to his website and its forms, contending the site does not work with certain software that could help provide the information.
“By maintaining an inaccessible website, Mr. Husted discriminates against blind voters by making it more burdensome for them to access the information and forms necessary to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” the lawsuit states.
Eck says Husted’s office has been working to improve its website and changes should be in place before the state’s presidential primary in March.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to provide relief ahead of the March election. Their attorneys did not specify a remedy for voters, but they cited an online tool used by blind or disabled voters in Maryland to mark their absentee ballots privately and independently.
“There’s a clear alternative that can and should be adopted,” Kristen Henry, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Ohio, said in an interview.