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Blind Voters Win Accessible Voting Appeal

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A group of blind voters, along with the National Federation of the Blind, successfully appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit against Ohio's Secretary of State, Jon Husted, to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involves a challenge to Ohio's absentee voting process claiming it is discriminatory against blind voters under the ADA.

The case was dismissed after the state filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The state asserted that the requested relief was not reasonable or practical because the plaintiffs sought the implementation of certain online voting tools that had not been certified by the state's election board. The heart of the state's claim was that the plaintiffs were trying to use the ADA to get around state procedural laws. While the district court agreed, the circuit court did not.

ADA Preempts State Law

The Sixth Circuit remanded the case back down to the district court, reminding it that the ADA trumps state law. State laws can be more restrictive than the ADA, but if a state law violates the ADA, it's the state law that's in trouble, not the federal act. Furthermore, the appellate court reminded the district court that the inquiry into whether the requested accommodation was reasonable is a fact intensive one that cannot be decided as a matter of law.

In doing so, the court discussed some of the finer details of the case. It explained that the plaintiffs sought some form of accommodation to assist with absentee voting because the current method could not be done autonomously for a blind individual (meaning they required the help of a sighted person to complete the absentee voting process). This violates an individual's right to cast their vote anonymously.

Online Software to the Rescue

One of the issues in this case revolves around the use of online assistive software to help the blind voters cast their ballots without any assistance. While several states have implemented similar systems, Ohio has not certified the software or system requested by the plaintiffs.

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