Statement from Stephanie Enyart, Chief Public Policy and Research Officer
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 10, 2021)—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) strongly supports efforts to expand voting rights for people with disabilities, including and especially people who are blind or have low vision. The Senate is currently considering the For the People Act (S.1), which would seek to improve voter registration, expand vote-by-mail and absentee voting systems, and enact other reforms that would remove barriers to voting. However, AFB stands in solidarity with the National Coalition for Accessible Voting in expressing concern about any effort that restricts blind and low vision voters’ access to an independent, private ballot.
Section 1502(a)(2) of S. 1 establishes a “Paper Ballot Mandate” that would require every voting system to use an individual, voter-verified paper ballot, thus prohibiting fully digital voting that facilitates reading, marking, verifying, and submitting ballots electronically. This mandate would force blind and low vision voters to use a ballot marking device producing a paper ballot that they may not be able to independently verify.
The mandate would also eliminate the possibility of submitting a fully accessible electronic absentee ballot in favor of a ballot that must be printed and signed or marked by hand, both of which methods are typically inaccessible to blind voters. We call on Congress to amend S. 1 to ensure the expansion of voting rights does not exclude or disenfranchise voters with disabilities.
We support our colleagues at the National Coalition for Accessible Voting, who proposed:
- An exemption from the paper ballot mandate for voters covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), allowing voters with disabilities and military and overseas voters to cast a private and independent ballot using digital means. Both groups benefit from digital options to ensure they have full and timely access to their right to vote.
- A provision that the paper ballot mandate for all voters must be reauthorized by Congress after six years.
- The inclusion of remote, accessible ballot marking systems in the definition of a voting system, which will bring remote voting systems into the HAVA-mandated requirements for published standards, independent compliance testing by federally accredited test labs, and the national certification of systems deemed compliant with published standards.
- Elimination of the “one accessible machine per polling place” requirement that has resulted in segregated voting for voters with disabilities, replacing it with a requirement for accessible voting systems to be sufficient in number to be the primary method of voting for in-person voting. The US Access Board shall be directed to issue guidance regarding proper implementation of a sufficient number of accessible voting systems.
- Funding for Section 247 (Study and Report on Accessible Voting Options) in the amount of $10 million for in-person voting grants and $10 million for remote voting grants, plus authorization of additional funding to states for the purchase of new fully accessible voting equipment. Funding for the purchase of new voting systems by the states would ensure that progress made under the research and development and pilot projects would be implemented by elections administrators.
While the robust proposals in S.1 are largely positive, the right to vote is sacred, and we simply cannot exclude our millions of American citizens who are blind or low vision.
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About the American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to steward the Helen Keller Archive, maintain and expand the digital collection, and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: www.afb.org