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New Absentee Ballot Program in New York Will Benefit Disabled Voters

The new program will make it easier for disabled New York residents to make their voices heard during local, state, and federal elections.
Stacks of absentee voting ballots.
Stacks of absentee voting ballots. Photo: Flickr

The New York State Board of Elections will be creating a new absentee ballot program,  following a lawsuit filed by disability advocacy organizations in May 2020. 

The lawsuit was brought by The National Federation of the Blind of New York State, American Council of the Blind of New York, Inc., Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, Disability Rights New York, and several New York voters with disabilities, including Rasheta Bunting, Karen Gourgey, Keith Gurgui, and Jose Hernandez. 

“This ruling affirms that the right to vote is something that all people regardless of disability status should be able to fully exercise as their civil duty. It will provide absentee voters access via an electronic platform for people with a series of disabilities, including but not limited to, visual, learning, and physical,” said CIDNY Executive Director Sharon McLennon-Wier. 

The program will make it easier for disabled New Yorkers to vote privately and independently, according to the settlement agreement. In the settlement, NYSBOE must choose a remote accessible vote-by-mail system. It would allow blind people and people with print disabilities to use their own computers to read and mark a ballot. 

The computers would have their own screen-reader software that converts the ballot content into spoken words or into Braille displayed on a connected device. NYSBOE must also create a statewide portal that voters can use to request an accessible absentee ballot. They are also committing to training each of the fifty-eight county boards of elections on the use of the system.

Karen Blachowicz, president of the American Council of the Blind, New York said, “We’re pleased that the state will provide consistent accessible absentee voting methods and supervision of every county board, so that every blind voter in New York can be confident of an accessible absentee vote.” 

In addition, the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled and NFBNYS also agreed with DRNY that all voters deserve to vote privately and independently. 

The organizations, in a joint statement, applaud NYSBOE for its commitment to making voting more accessible.

“This is a big step forward for democracy in New York State that would allow people to use their own technology to fill out an absentee ballot,” said Chana Bleznick, BCID’s Voter Engagement Advocate. 

"BCID is looking forward to partnering with DRA, DRNY and other disability organizations to further ensure accessibility to all in voting," Bleznick added.