Judge orders new accommodations for blind voters in pandemic

Blind and low-vision voters need access to voting portal used for voters overseas, military, federal judge rules.

Posted Updated
Election Day is Nov. 6, but early voting is underway
Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge ruled in favor of blind voters in North Carolina this week, saying the state must give them a better way to vote in private and without having to visit a polling place during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued a preliminary injunction in the case Thursday and ordered the State Board of Elections to give blind and low-vision voters access to Democracy Live, an online voting portal already used by deployed members of the military and U.S. citizens overseas.

The judge acknowledged logistical issues in getting that set up but said it should be done "as expeditiously as possible" ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Absentee voting by mail for that election is already underway, but the judge said in his order that the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit have already agreed that "some days of access to a private, independent accessible absentee ballot are better than zero days of private, independent absentee voting.”

Blind and low-vision voters typically use machines to vote at their polling places that provide privacy and allow them to vote without assistance. Those who fear visiting a polling place during the coronavirus pandemic would have to vote with paper absentee ballots and would typically need help to do so, the lawsuit states.

The Democracy Live portal offers an alternative, and Boyle said he was unpersuaded by the state's argument that widening access to the portal would increase security risks.

The case was brought by four voters and several advocacy groups. Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights North Carolina said in a news release Friday that they're coordinating implementation of the court's order with the State Board of Elections.

”There are still details to be worked out, but it’s clear that, with this order, North Carolina has made a huge step in advancing the rights of its citizens with disabilities,” said Kendall Gibbs, one of the plaintiffs, said in the groups' release.

It's unclear how many voters will be affected by the ruling. This is one of several lawsuits targeting North Carolina's voting rules that has either been decided in recent weeks or remains pending. Most of the suits deal with absentee ballot rules and transitions meant to make it easier for people to vote without going to the polls in person.


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