Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court
A coalition of disability organizations has filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State William Gardner and the New Hampshire Department of State asserting discrimination against voters with disabilities who are unable to independently and privately mark an absentee paper ballot due to blindness, low vision, or physical disability.
The lawsuit and request for preliminary injunction were filed by Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire (DRC-NH) and Brown, Goldstein & Levy on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire (NFBNH), Granite State Independent Living (GSIL), and several New Hampshire voters with disabilities, including Daniel Frye, Jean Shiner, and Jeffrey Dickinson. The lawsuit alleges that the process for requesting an absentee ballot is inaccessible and that the requirement that absentee voters fill out and mail in a printed paper ballot discriminates against blind and physically disabled voters, who – unlike their nondisabled fellow voters – must choose between having someone else fill out their ballot, forfeiting their right to vote privately and independently, or subjecting themselves and their loved ones to a life-threatening pandemic by visiting a polling place in person.
The plaintiffs seek the implementation of an accessible system for electronic delivery and marking of absentee ballots by voters who are blind or who have other physical disabilities and an accessible process for voters to register to vote and request an absentee ballot.
“The National Federation of the Blind has made New Hampshire’s election officials aware of their obligations to blind voters and offered our expertise and assistance, but so far to no avail,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We therefore bring this litigation to prevent the continued treatment of New Hampshire’s blind voters as second-class citizens.”
“People with disabilities have the right to vote privately and independently, even during a pandemic. Secretary Gardner must take action now, in advance of the September 8 primary, to make sure that all voters can register to vote, request an absentee ballot and vote safely at home,” said Stephanie Patrick, Executive Director of DRC-NH. “Absentee voting must be accessible to everyone.”
“GSIL believes voting is a protected right afforded all Granite Staters and that the state must meet the minimum needs of voters with disabilities to avoid disenfranchising this voting block,” said Deborah Ritcey, CEO of GSIL. “The need for fully accessible absentee ballots has never been more important than during the current COVID19 pandemic.”
This lawsuit was filed in the federal court for the District of New Hampshire under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Rather than monetary damages, plaintiffs seek reform to the systems and practices that discriminate against voters with disabilities in time for the September 8, 2020 primary election and the November 3, 2020 general election.