Baltimore’s National Federation Of The Blind Headquarters Fights To Protect Blind Voters

A polling station identified with signs posted to the exterior of the building. Photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr.

What’s happening?

Though Maryland has made improvements, the National Federation of the Blind—particularly its Baltimore-based program director, Lou Ann Blake—plans to continue protecting voting rights for the blind, especially related to privacy and anonymity, Billy Jean Louis reports for The Washington Post. 

 Blind voters casting their ballots in-person can either submit a paper version or use a ballot-marking device, an electronic voting machine that produces a long, thin ballot that can be easily distinguished from others, potentially identifying the votes casted by blind residents. The 2021 lawsuit claimed that these machines violated voter confidentiality and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the state ultimately settled for $230,000. 

What improvements did Maryland make after the lawsuit?

Following the lawsuit, Maryland officials also agreed to install at least two ballot-marking devices in half of all voting places, requiring at least 10 voters to use the machine regardless of disability status. 

While the 2021 lawsuit has secured additional provisions for blind voters in Maryland, NFB members will lobby the state’s General Assembly next year to allow voters with disabilities to return their ballots electronically, similar to other states like Colorado, Utah, and West Virginia. 

The deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, Nikki Charlson, said that all Maryland polling sites will include at least two devices throughout early voting and on Election Day. 

Anything else I should know?

Voters are not required to disclose their disabilities to vote, so the total number of blind voters in Maryland is unknown. However, data from the 2022 primary elections indicates that at least 36% of voters used a ballot-marking device. 

You can read more here. 

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