USA: Blind voters fear loss of privacy with shift to mail voting
In recent weeks, advocates for the blind have filed legal actions in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania seeking access to systems already in place to deliver ballots electronically to military and overseas voters. Blind voters could then use their own computers and assistive technology to read and complete their ballots themselves.
“This is about equality,” said Chris Danielsen with the National Federation of the Blind, one of the groups suing. “If a secret ballot is important to you, it’s important to a blind person, as well.”
Because of these efforts, all three states agreed to make electronic ballots available during the primaries to voters with disabilities, and more actions are likely before November.
Voting technology experts have raised security concerns about such Internet-based voting systems. They also warn about implementing a new process so close to an election, risking the same sort of problems that derailed this year’s Iowa caucuses when a hastily developed mobile app failed.
Disability advocates said they have been calling on election officials for years to provide secure electronic absentee ballots. But only a small number of states have done so.
This year, Delaware and New Jersey worked with Democracy Live, a Seattle-based technology firm that works with election offices in several states, including California, Texas, Ohio and Florida to provide electronic ballots to military and overseas voters.
Although New Jersey piloted this system for local elections on 12 May, this will not be available for the state-wide primaries on 7 July as election officials said they determined the system wasn’t needed because some in-person voting would be available.
Conversely in Delaware, voters with disabilities were able to receive electronic ballots in recent elections through an in-house system that has since been retired in favour of the Democracy Live platform. It will be used during a pilot program in the state’s July 7 presidential primary.
Earlier this year in West Virginia, lawmakers expanded electronic ballot delivery to voters with a physical disability. Secretary of State Mac Warner advocated for the law, saying it was important to ensure no voter is disenfranchised.
“There are security concerns, but the likelihood of that happening is rather remote,” he said. “And it gets to a risk-reward benefit. The reward is getting people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to vote.”
An estimated 7 million adults in the U.S. have a visual disability, and advocates worry that some might choose to skip voting altogether this year rather than risk catching the virus or having their ballot privacy compromised.
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