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Judge Rules For Blind Voters In NC Accessibility Case

Chris Miller

A federal judge has ruled that the North Carolina State Board of Elections must give blind voters the opportunity to use an online voting system so they can vote absentee without assistance.

Before U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle’s ruling on June 15, the state’s absentee by mail program required blind voters to fill out paper ballots and return them by mail.

That meant that people who are visually impaired and wanted to vote absentee weren’t able to vote in private. They needed someone to read the ballot and mark their choices.

“They would have to rely on someone else to actually mark their ballot and they would have to trust that that ballot is being marked that that ballot is being marked the way that they want it to be,” said Rosa Lee Bichell with Disability Rights Advocates, an advocacy group for one of the plaintiffs in the case.

In the 2020 November election, the state allowed military and overseas voters the ability to use an online system operated by a company called Democracy Live.

Disability advocates had won a preliminary injunction giving blind voters access to the same online system for that election.

The judge’s decision makes that permanent, starting with this fall’s municipal races. It also requires the board of elections to make sure its website is accessible and to have someone in charge of absentee voting programs for people with disabilities.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.