Visually Impaired Voters Must Decide How To Cast Ballots
As the nation approaches November third, more and more absentee vote requests are coming in. But for voters who or blind or have vision impairment, they face a choice of having a safe vote or a private vote. An alternative still hasn’t been rolled out with early voting starting next week.
In prior elections, Becky Davidson, who is blind voted in person. One of her biggest challenges was how to get to the polls. This year she’s worried that social distancing won’t help protect her or other voters, especially with the markers on the floor that she isn’t able to see.
She’s figuring out how to cast her ballot - does she vote in person or does she ask someone to fill it out … giving up her private vote.
“Being able to go vote privately and independently is something that I value quite a bit…Sadly, doing absentee voting, privately and independently is still not possible here in North Carolina or in a number of states,” says Davidson.
If a voter is blind or has vision impairments and goes in-person, they’re able to have assistance via a voting machine that verbally guides them through the ballot — providing both accessibility and privacy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26.8 percent of adults in North Carolina have some type of disability.
Advocacy groups and plaintiffs recently sued the state — and won — arguing the current absentee voting system was not accessible to those with vision impairment. Voters who need assistance are now able to access Democracy Live, an online portal traditionally used for deployed voters and those overseas.
The ballot is online and audio based and allows for voters to mark their ballots without assistance.
Mecklenburg County Board of Elections director Michael Dickerson says counties are waiting to unveil the ballot.
“We’re awaiting to see what the state is going to have for us,” Dickerson says. “If it’s like the overseas ballot where somebody can vote sort of online with their computer. So once the state gives directions, and understands how that system can be converted for someone with a vision impairment, then we’ll be able to have all 100 counties in the state follow that rule.”
Corye Dunn works with Disability Rights North Carolina, a non-profit that was part of the lawsuit against the state.
“Our clients simply wanted to be able to use the process that other voters use to cast an absentee ballot without having to compromise the privacy of that ballot,” Dunn says.
With early voting starting soon, Becky Davidson is still not sure how she will vote.
“If the system is up and online and running and available in time for the election, I made test it just because I can and rather than go to the polls, because I think it's pretty intriguing, and I think it has a lot of potential.”
Raleigh resident Ricky Scott has been blind for nearly his whole life and has voted both absentee by mail and in person.
Voting is important to him, and he’s cautiously optimistic that the online voting option will give blind voters like him the privacy they need.
“What it boils down to is equal treatment with respect to the ballot. That's a basic right of citizenship,” Scott says. “To ask us, to accept anything less is inherently discriminatory, and says that we are second class citizens.”