Federal Judge Strikes Down Indiana’s Mandatory Absentee Voter Traveling Board as Discriminating against Voters with Disabilities for May 2022 Election
March 10, 2022—Indianapolis, IN—Yesterday, the Honorable Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana struck down Indiana’s rule that absentee voters who could not independently mark their own ballot may vote absentee by mail only by appointment with a “traveling board” of elections officials in the May 2022 election. The traveling board rule was the most restrictive in the country for voters with disabilities and had resulted in at least one voter being unable to cast a ballot in the November 2020 Presidential Election because a traveling board never came to her home to help her vote. As a result of yesterday’s ruling, voters with print disabilities may ask the person of their choice to help them complete a paper absentee ballot in the May 2022 primary election. Click here to read court’s order.
The ability to vote privately and independently is a fundamental right and an essential component of democracy in the United States. “This case involves the values at the core of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act: equal treatment, equal access, and independence for individuals with disabilities,” Judge Magnus-Stinson held, and “the Traveling Board scheme significantly interferes with a blind or print disabled person’s ability to vote privately and independently.” Defendants Indiana Secretary of State, Indiana Election Division, and Indiana Election Commission must now notify county election boards that they must accept and count mail-in absentee ballots from blind voters.
Judge Magnus-Stinson also expressed her “grave concern” about Defendants’ failure to enable such voters mark their ballots privately and independently at home using electronic tools in the May 2022 primary and “expects Defendants to increase their efforts to remedy those problems in advance of future elections.” The Plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit filed in December 2020 asking for that relief, and the Indiana Legislature passed a similar law in April 2021.
“I tried so hard to make an appointment with the traveling board in the 2020 Presidential Election, but they never came, and I never got to vote at all,” said Wanda Tackett, a plaintiff in the suit. “I’m so relieved that no one will have to go through that in the May 2022 election. Not only am I grateful to everyone working on this side of the table, but I am grateful to God for his grace and mercy.”
“Voting by traveling board in 2020 was not only inconvenient, but also I was not able to vote privately and independently. Yesterday’s order bodes very well for our lawsuit and our request to make absentee voting private, independent, and accessible to all people,” said Kristin Fleschner. She is a plaintiff who had to make a traveling board appointment to vote in 2020, but when the traveling board arrived, they asked her mother to complete her ballot, defeating the purpose of their visit.
“I’m very pleased that the judge agrees with us that voting in Indiana needs to be accessible so we can exercise our right to vote independently and privately the same as our peers,” said Rita Kersh, plaintiff and President of ACB-I.
“While the judge’s conclusion is progress, I am still pressing for an option that allows voters with print disabilities to apply for, receive, fill out, and return their absentee ballot independently and privately,” said Dee Ann Hart, a member of the Board of Directors of the ACB-I and its Advocacy and Awareness Committee Chair.
ACB-I officer Barbara Salisbury said, “I am grateful that the judge recognized our complaint and recognized that the state is not doing what it could, or perhaps should, do.”
“We appreciate Judge Magnus-Stinson recognized how harmful the traveling board requirement can be for voters with print disabilities,” said Tom Crishon, Indiana Disability Rights Legal Director. “We look forward to making it nonmandatory and to ensure truly accessible absentee voting for all future elections as well.”
“We will continue our fight to help blind voters vote as privately and independently as they can,” said Christina Brandt-Young, a Supervising Attorney with Disability Rights Advocates. “Courts in numerous other states have held that providing only paper ballots to blind voters is discriminatory when electronic tools can help them mark their ballots by themselves, and we hope they will do so in Indiana as well.”
Plaintiffs are seeking only injunctive relief, not monetary damages, and are represented by attorneys from Indiana Disability Rights and Disability Rights Advocates. Indiana’s primary election is May 3, 2022, with absentee voting opening April 5.
Indiana Disability Rights (IDR) is the designated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System and Client Assistance Program (CAP) for the State of Indiana. The mission of Indiana Disability Rights is to uphold, promote, and advance the rights of individuals with disabilities through empowerment and advocacy to achieve a more equitable society. For more information, visit www.IndianaDisabilityRights.org.
Disability Rights Advocates is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA has a long history of enforcing the rights of voters with disabilities, including their rights to accessible voting machines, polling places, and online voter registration. Visit www.dralegal.org.
Absentee Voting Options for Hoosier Voters with Print Disabilities
In 2020, Disability Rights Advocates, Indiana Disability Rights, the American Council of the Blind of Indiana, and several individual Indiana voters brought a lawsuit under federal law challenging Indiana’s absentee voting system for discriminating against voters with print disabilities by failing to have a method by which they could vote privately and independently. On March 9, 2022, a federal judge ordered Indiana to open new avenues for voters with print disabilities to cast absentee ballots from home in the upcoming 2022 primary election.
What does this mean for the 2022 primary election? Make your voting plans and submit the relevant forms early! This is especially important if you plan to vote absentee from home. There are new procedures in place for the first time for the May 3, 2022, election. That means that things may not work as intended, and you want to be sure you can address any problems that arise in time to make your vote count! Please be aware that a lot of the Indiana Election Division and Secretary of State’s resources for voters are inaccessible PDFs, including some documents linked in this info sheet. If you encounter any problems while voting, please contact Indiana Disability Rights at (317)-722-5555, (800) 622-4845 (toll free), or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also contact your local County Clerk’s Office to report any issues. You can find a directory of County Clerks on the last page of absentee ballot application for voters with print disabilities here: Combined Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Application Form for Voters with Print Disabilities.
Following the Court’s order, voters with print disabilities have the following options to vote absentee:
- In person absentee voting: Also known as “early voting,” voters can vote in person at the Clerk’s Office from April 5, 2022, through 6 p.m. (local prevailing time), Monday, May 2, 2022. Contact your local Clerk’s office for address, directions, and any questions.
- Voting by mail-in paper ballot: Apply for a mail-in paper ballot on or before April 21, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. (local prevailing time). The Clerk’s office will mail you a ballot, which you must return to the Clerk’s office prior to the closing of the polls on election day. Completed ballots can be returned in person or by mail, but if mailed must be received by the Clerk (and not merely post-marked) by the close of polls on election day. While these mail-in ballots will be paper ballots, and thus not accessible to voters with print disabilities, voters with print disabilities can rely on the assistance of a person of their choosing (other than an employer or representative of the voter’s union) to complete the ballots. They will need to sign the affidavit of assistance on the ballot envelope. The mail-in absentee ballot application and additional information can be found in two places:
- Traveling board: The application to request assistance from a traveling board is due no later than May 2, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. (local prevailing time). Voters will need to coordinate with the members of the traveling board to arrange for a time for the board members to visit the voter’s home and assist in completion of the ballots. The traveling board application and additional information can be found at the linked PDF form to mail in.
- Voting by email or fax: By new law passed in 2021, voters with print disabilities will be eligible to receive and return ballots by email or fax. Under this system, voters will have to complete, sign, and return a separate document called a secrecy waiver with their completed ballots. At this time, we do not expect that the secrecy waiver and ballots provided under this system will be accessible for voters with print disabilities. However, we depend on you to try out the new system and report any issues you encounter so that we can make sure it is improved for future elections. The Indiana Election Division and Secretary of State are finalizing the procedures for applying for this program.
- The PDF form to mail in to register for this program can be found here: Combined Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Application Form for Voters with Print Disabilities.
- The online registration form for this program is expected to go live on IndianaVoters.com on April 18, 2022.
- Tip: Remember that if your default settings open PDF documents in your web browser, like Chrome, Edge, or Safari, you will not be able to fill out the PDF no matter how accessible it is. If you receive a PDF document you want to fill out, save it somewhere on your computer that you can find again, open your document-reading program (Adobe, Preview, etc.), and use the document-reading program to open the PDF. For additional assistance in JAWS, see this document at the heading “Reading PDFs in a Web Browser VS the Desktop App.”
If you request to receive and return a ballot by email, and any necessary document that you receive is inaccessible, like the ballot, secrecy waiver, or instructions, here is what you can do to preserve your vote:
- Save a blank version of the ballot or other inaccessible document to your personal device.
- Contact Indiana Disability Rights to report the issues you encounter. This includes if you encounter any inaccessible forms or online processes, if you do not receive an email ballot that you registered for, and/or if you receive a ballot and/or secrecy waiver that is inaccessible and that you cannot complete using your assistive technology.
- Contact your County Clerk’s Office to seek guidance on how they recommend you vote in light of the inaccessibility of your ballot. We expect that County Clerks will propose the following options, though it’s possible that they will recommend different procedures:
- Print out a blank ballot and bring it to your local polls to surrender so that you may vote in-person.
- Complete the electronic ballot with the assistance of a person of your choosing (other than an employer or representative of the voter’s union). This could include:
- Printing a blank electronic ballot and marking it in hard copy with the assistance of a person of your choice, then submitting that with a secrecy waiver in-person;
- Marking the ballot electronically with the assistance of a person of your choice, then printing the completed ballot with the secrecy waiver to submit in-person;
- Submitting the completed ballot and secrecy waiver via email to your County Clerk.
- Request that the County Clerk send you a mail-in paper ballot and complete it with the assistance of a person of your choosing, like the standard mail-in procedure described above.
Information about voting in Indiana, and absentee voting in particular, can be found at https://indianavoters.in.gov/, or by contacting your local County Clerk’s office.
If you encounter any issues with mail or email ballots, please contact Indiana Disability Rights at (317) 722-5555, (800) 622-4845 (toll free), or at email@example.com.