Mass. Mail-In-Ballot Rules Exclude Disabled Voters, Suit Says

By Brian Dowling
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Law360 (October 5, 2020, 4:28 PM EDT) -- A group of disabled Massachusetts voters is suing Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin in federal court to extend accommodations that would allow the voters to submit their completed ballots by email for the November election.

Four disabled voters and two disability groups said in the lawsuit filed Friday that the state's existing Accessible Vote by Mail accommodations violate Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act and are "replete with barriers for voters with print disabilities" because they still require printing a ballot at home and putting it in the mail.

People with print disabilities are unable to access standard printed materials. That includes people "who are blind or have low vision, mobility/dexterity disabilities, or other disabilities," according to the complaint, which was filed by attorneys with the Disability Law Center in Boston.

"The effective requirement that voters with print disabilities must get assistance from third parties in order to participate in the AVBM program is incompatible with their rights to equal access to the remote voting options available to all voters in Massachusetts," the complaint said.

The suit seeks an order allowing disabled voters to return ballots by email — a practice the state already allows for military voters and their families, as well as citizens living overseas.

"Permitting registered voters residing in Massachusetts who have been individually approved for access to an accessible electronic ballot is equally as safe as allowing thousands of overseas citizens and military personnel and their dependents to do so," the lawsuit said.

The current accommodations available in the Nov. 3 general election were in force in September's primary election, the lawsuit says. However, just 14 voters were approved for the electronic vote by mail system, and three of them — plaintiffs Barbara Rivero, James Wice and Cory Kadlik — were ultimately unable to complete the process, the suit says.

Under the existing accommodations, blind voters may have trouble verifying the ballot was printed correctly, locating the envelopes to mail them back, reading attestation statements on the ballot, and signing the ballot, the lawsuit says. For voters with mobility or dexterity issues, the difficulties include removing the printed ballot from the printer to the envelope and signing the ballot envelope.

The lawsuit says Galvin's office has claimed the state legislation approving the vote by mail requires the ballots to be mailed back to local elections offices.

Representatives for the parties declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

The voters are represented by Tatum A. Pritchard, Thomas Murphy and Matthew Steele of the Disability Law Center.

Counsel information for the state was not immediately available on Monday.

The case is Rivero et al. v. Galvin et al., case number 1:20-cv-11808, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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