By Michael D. Hernandez

A Maryland lawsuit has drawn attention to the challenge of ensuring each person has privacy and independence during voting.

The National Federation of the Blind has claimed in its May 2014 lawsuit that Maryland is violating federal law by not approving a new voting system. The organization is asking a U.S. District Court to order the board to provide the system for the state’s June 24 primary election.

Supporters of the new voting system said it would provide an equal opportunity for a person with a disability to cast an absentee ballot privately. The electronic tool would allow a person to mark the ballot on a computer, print out the ballot and send it to an elections office.

Board members voted against its professional staff’s recommendation to allow use of the system. The board cited concerns that the system could be vulnerable to voter fraud, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The idea of ensuring privacy and independence during voting is rooted in the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Section 301 requires that each polling place include at least one voting machine “equipped for individuals with disabilities.”

The lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind uses as its argument the prohibition of discrimination against people with disabilities that is cited in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

NCSL wrote about the turnout gap for voters with disabilities in the May edition of The Canvass. That article pointed to ways states have attempted to address accessibility, from Utah’s new law that will allow people with disabilities in certain counties to vote online to Michigan’s enactment of a bill that allows a person with a disability to use a signature stamp to sign elections documents.

The Canvass article included the perspective of Jim Dickson, an advocate for people with disabilities, who has shared with NCSL his take on the many reasons to ensure privacy for all voters.

Dickson, who is blind, likes to tell the story of the time he relied on his wife to fill in a ballot for him. Her reply about his selections, in which she described one of the candidates as an idiot, made Dickson doubt whether his choices were accurately reflected in the ballot.

Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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