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Federal judge rules in favor of disability advocates in absentee voting fight

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A federal judge has made a decision in a nearly three-year-old fight.

Disability rights advocates filed suit seeking more equitable voting access for people with print disabilities. Advocates say the judge’s decision will allow voters who have disabilities to secretly and independently cast their ballot.

Disability advocates say we really saw those disparities close-up during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as it relates to people who are blind and those with manual dexterity limitations. So, this fight isn’t a new one.

While this is considered a win, there’s room to improve.

The fight for more equitable voting access isn’t new for Dee Ann Hart. She’s an advocate for the blind. One of the agencies she works with is the America Council of the Blind of Indiana.

“I have low vision. I have enough vision using that I can read print using low vision low vision devices,” Hart said.

The America Council of the Blind of Indiana is one of the agencies represented by Indiana disability rights attorneys and advocates. Filing suit against the Indiana Election Commission. Seeking what it calls injunctive relief rather than monetary damages.

“This movement started before the pandemic but with COVID-19 it highlighted just how important it is to allow folks to vote absentee and allow them to vote fully excessively accessibly and privately and independently and secretly,” said Rosa Lee Bichell, a disability rights attorney.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the America Council of the Blind of Indiana. saying Indiana’s current voting standards were discriminatory.

“That is very frequently the reason people don’t vote is because of the barriers to getting to the polling places the barriers to accomplish the task of voting,” Hart said.

Prior to this decision, voters with vision and manual dexterity limitations weren’t granted absentee mail-in ballots. Instead, they were required to submit ballots via a traveling board where two election workers would come to their homes to help them fill out their ballot.

“For this upcoming November election, voters are longer required to rely on a traveling board and instead voters with print disabilities may choose an assistant of their choice,” Bichell said.

Hart says this is the first step. The hope is to eventually get to a point where ballots can be cast completely electronically and independently.

“It’s a struggle because it seems like its a simple thing that needs to be done, but it seems like there is a lot of complexity in doing it,” Hart said.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 12.