Blind community wants equal access to absentee ballots in a COVID-19-free environment

Politics

CONNECTICUT (WTNH) — The August primary is less than two weeks away, and an absentee ballot bill is awaiting Governor Ned Lamont’s signature.

A segment of the voting public said they’re being deprived the right to a secret ballot. Those in the blind community said their voices are not being heard.

“We want to be treated like equal citizens,” said Maryanne Melley, Connecticut President of the National Federation of the Blind.

Melley has been blind for more than 20 years. She has a guide dog, Homer, for help.

When the state decided to open elections up to absentee balloting due to COVID-19, things got complicated.

There is no braille ballot.

“Some statements made by Secretary [Denise] Merrill’s office, ‘Well our law in Connecticut says you can have someone else fill in the ballot for you.'” That’s not what we want. We are independent blind individuals, and we are supposed to be allowed to fill in our own ballots, not have someone else do it for us.”

As Chief Election Officer, Secretary Merrill must provide equal access to all voters.

“This has been difficult to navigate,” she told News 8.

By law, the current technology for the disabled is the use of this IVS machine. The braille number pad allows the blind to fill out a ballot. But, it requires the person to physically go into the poll.

Melley said she just survived cancer and doesn’t want COVID.

“I personally have just finished almost a year of cancer treatment. I’m not going to a poll.”

There are 6,000 blind voters in Connecticut who are asking for an online option. They already have voice technology on their computers and cellphones.

But Merrill said she has serious concerns over cyber security with online voting.

“We are not taking a right away from anyone just trying to figure out how we can accommodate folks who are visually impaired,” said Merill.

What about extending the military option? Members who vote oversees still have to write in the names on an empty ballot and fill in the bubbles — another roadblock for those who can’t see.

“What we are entitled to, its title two of the American’s with Disabilities Act, is equal access to absentee ballots,” said Melley.

The Secretary of State has asked the University of Connecticut’s voting and technology researchers to look into finding a solution. But with 12 days until the primary, it seems very unlikely anything will be resolved.

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