State to Take Steps to Advance Equal Rights for Blind Voters at Polling Places
Representing the National Federation of the Blind, its Maryland affiliate, and three blind registered Maryland voters – Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager, and Joel Zimba – Brown, Goldstein & Levy settled the lawsuit filed two years ago against state election officials.
When the state moved from having all voters use electronic voting machines to a hybrid system where most voters use hand-marked paper ballots, each polling place had only one or two electronic/accessible ballot marking devices (BMDs). This led to major underutilization of the BMDs, which in turn threatened the secrecy of blind voters’ ballots and the ability for blind voters to vote privately and independently at all.
State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone and the Maryland State Board of Elections have agreed to take several measures to address the issues raised in the lawsuit, including the following among others:
- The state elections administrator will take specific steps to ensure that additional BMDs are available at the individual plaintiffs’ assigned polling locations, at other voting locations where there have been issues in past elections or where securing a replacement BMD may take longer, and at all early voting or election day voting centers if such centers are used.
- The training materials issued to election judges by the state will instruct them to ensure that at least ten voters at each polling location use BMDs, and election judges at polling places that do not meet this requirement will be subject to additional monitoring and training.
- In the Board’s next request for proposals for a new voting system, the State Administrator will include the capability for the BMD to produce a ballot substantially similar in size, shape, and content to hand-marked paper ballots as a factor in the determination of which voting system to purchase or lease.
- The Board will not discourage the use of BMDs or encourage the use of hand-marked paper ballots to the exclusion of BMDs in formal messaging to the public or in training and other messaging to election judges, except in certain circumstances such as long wait times, malfunctioning equipment or software, or security threats affecting BMDs.
- The state administrator will provide the National Federation of the Blind with data about the use of BMDs, and about complaints by voters with disabilities regarding BMDs or their functioning and availability, for each election through 2024.
Subject to approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works, the state will also pay $230,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
“After almost five years of advocacy, litigation, and negotiation, we are hopeful that this settlement represents the first steps on a path to true equality for Maryland’s blind and disabled voters,” said Ronza Othman, a civil rights attorney and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. “Ultimately, Maryland must completely eliminate its segregated voting system for blind and disabled voters, and we will continue to work toward that goal even as we celebrate the progress represented by this agreement.”