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 November 2020 election.
On June 15, 2021, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ordered the North Carolina Board of Elections to take immediate steps to ensure that blind voters will have equal access to the 2021 municipal elections and all subsequent elections. Judge Boyle found that North Carolina denies blind voters the opportunity to cast an absentee ballot privately and independently in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Judge Boyle’s ruling makes the access blind voters enjoyed in the 2020 elections permanent.