North Carolina Council of the Blind v. North Carolina State Board of Elections
On July 27, 2020, disability organizations filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections for excluding North Carolinians with disabilities from their Absentee Voting program. The lawsuit charges the state agency with discrimination against voters who are unable to independently and privately mark a paper ballot due to vision disabilities. All North Carolinians deserve to vote safely and independently, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of groups including Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights North Carolina, the North Carolina Council of the Blind, the Governor Morehead School Alumni Association, Inc., and several North Carolina voters with disabilities, including Jo Taliaferro, Kenneth Durden, Kendall Gibbs, and Dr. Ricky Scott.
This lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina 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 November 2020 elections and beyond.
On August 12, 2020, disability organizations filed an application for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The motion sought a court order requiring immediate action from the North Carolina State Board of Elections to make their Absentee Voting Program accessible to voters with disabilities by the November election.
On September 24, 2020, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina granted the motion for preliminary injunction against the North Carolina State Board of Elections, ordering them to make their Absentee Voting Program accessible to voters with disabilities for the November election. Chief District Judge Terrence Boyle’s ruling orders the NCSBOE allow voters with vision disabilities to opt into the already accessible electronic platform used by North Carolina’s military and overseas voters. This includes accessible electronic means for requesting, receiving, marking, and returning absentee ballots.
The preliminary injunction only applies to the upcoming November election. Plaintiffs will continue their pursuit for a fully accessible absentee ballot for all subsequent elections.
The accessible voting platform—which is compatible with screen readers—is currently expected to go live on October 19, 2020. If a voter has already requested a paper absentee ballot, they may still opt into the accessible electronic platform, as long as the voter has not already returned a marked paper ballot. Updated information about this process can be found via Disability Rights North Carolina’s website or the NCSBOE website. For those interested in being notified when the system is live, please email email@example.com.