Accessible Absentee Voting for People with Print Disabilities

Interim Agreement Reached for the November 3, 2020 Election

Access

Augusta, Maine – An interim agreement has been reached between the Maine Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) and named municipalities and Plaintiffs Lynn Merrill, Nicholas Giudice, Pauline Lamontagne, Cheryl Peabody, and Disability Rights Maine that provides Maine voters an accessible absentee ballot system for the upcoming November 3, 2020 general election. Following a lawsuit filed on July 15, 2020 by the Plaintiffs, the SOS agreed to develop and implement an accessible absentee ballot system for qualified voters with disabilities. This system will allow for accessible absentee ballots across all Maine’s municipalities.

Starting October 2, 2020, Maine voters with print disabilities can access an Accessible Absentee Ballot Request Form on the Secretary’s website to request an accessible electronically-delivered absentee ballot. Maine’s accessible ballot will allow voters to both receive and return the ballot electronically to the Secretary of State’s Office to be counted.

Print disabilities may include, but are not limited to, vision impairment or blindness; physical dexterity limitations; learning disabilities, such as dyslexia; brain injury or cognitive impairment; or early dementia, all which may prevent an individual from independently marking a paper ballot.

“No one should have to choose between their health in th e pandemic and exercising the most fundamental and important right in a democracy-the right to vote.  We are pleased that the Secretary of State’s Office has taken steps to ensure that people with print disabilities will be able to vote privately, independently, and safely from their home for the November 3 general election,” says lead counsel, Kristin Aiello of Disability Rights Maine.

The terms of the agreement, which apply to the November 3, 2020 general election, include the following:

A new application is being added to the state’s existing Absentee Ballot Request (ABR) Service that will enable Maine voters who self-certify that they have a disability that prevents them from completing a paper ballot independently to vote by electronic ballot.

To obtain a ballot, qualified voters must complete an online request for an accessible absentee ballot and receive the accessible ballot from the Secretary’s Elections Division.

The application is accessible by standard screen reader text-to-speech software, and enables a voter who is blind or visually impaired to navigate the application and independently complete the form fields.

The Secretary is designing a welcome page on the SOS website for the accessible ABR Service.  The welcome page for accessible absentee ballot users will contain tips for each screen reader, which will walk the user through each step of accessing the ballot.  The welcome page will also contain a sample absentee ballot so people can practice prior to voting with the real ballot using their own operating system.

Once the voter’s application is approved, the voter will receive a secure log in and credentials to access the state ballot for the electoral districts in which they reside, as well as any local ballots.

The SOS will provide universally accessible pdf (UA/PDF) absentee ballots that voters with print disabilities will be able to download and review using a standard screen reader (JAWS, NVDA, or VoiceOver).

Voters will be able to mark their choices independently and confidentially, and then submit the ballot via a secure delivery system using the secure log in credential provided through the ABR service. Voters can track the status of the absentee ballot at every stage of the process.

To assist voters navigate the new system, the Secretary’s vendor has hired an expert in accessibility, Maria Delgado, formerly of American Printing House for the Blind, to troubleshoot any problems that occur when print-disabled voters are attempting to cast an absentee ballot. Ms. Delgado will work with each voter through the system if any problems should occur.  Information on how to contact her will be on the accessible ballot web page.

People with print disabilities will be able to submit their ballot requests via the online ABR service and obtain their ballots to cast starting on October 2, 2020, which is the same date that other voters will begin to receive their paper-based absentee ballots.

To request an accessible absentee ballot, voters with print disabilities should visit the Absentee Ballot Request Page online

or contact the Secretary of State, Division of Elections at: (207) 624-7650 or email cec.elections@maine.gov

 

 

Assistive Technology Re-authorization Act Introduced in Senate

Casey, Collins Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Assistive Technology for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Legislation Would Help Seniors and People With Disabilities Maintain Independence

US Capitol DomeWashington, D.C. – Today, June 13, 2019, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, introduced the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act that would increase access to assistive technology—devices or services that help seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and live where they choose.  The bill, which comes following a May 22nd hearing in the Aging Committee on the topic, would also help reduce the low employment and high poverty rates of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them live independently and maintain employment.

“Assistive technology helps millions of people live independently, remain engaged in their community and improves the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey.  “It is important that we update this bill to support the advances in assistive technology over the last 15 years, so that those who need it can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”

“As our population ages, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins.  “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors.  The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act would help to ensure that seniors continue to have access to these life-changing technologies to help them maintain their independence.”

The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act (S.1835) Act would update the Assistive Technology Act by clarifying that the program serves all people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults who developed disabilities later in life. The Assistive Technology Act would also increase the funding authorized for programs that serve rural areas. Assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment, product or service that helps someone with a disability or functional limitation accomplish their daily needs such as wheelchair ramps, hearing aids, screen readers and even smart phones.

This bill is supported by the Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and CAST.

Please contact Senator Collins office to receive an accessible version of the proposed 21st Century Assistive Technology Act.