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Court ruling makes blind voters more independent and their ballots secure

Court ruling makes blind voters more independent and their ballots secure
Democracy Live utilizes voice-over screen-reader software that lets voters hear options and use the keypad to choose. The ballots are emailed to the county board of elections to be verified. (Photo credit: Democracy Live)

"If you can't see your ballot, then you would have to ask a sighted person for help, which means you would have to ask someone to read your ballot to you and to mark your choices," explained Holly Stiles, an attorney for Disability Rights North Carolina.

The group brought a lawsuit on behalf of visually-impaired voters in North Carolina.

It has been 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. Now, it's 2020 and time to vote.

"Most people take for granted that their ballot is secret, private and independent. And people who are blind have never had that right when it comes to the absentee ballot, until this year. They have that right now," Stiles said.

Last month, a federal court ruled the state had to make the system more inclusive and accessible.

Democracy Live was chosen for the job. The company is used by U.S. military members, overseas residents and voters with other disabilities and said to be proven, safe and reliable.

It utilizes voice-over screen-reader software, already installed on many computers. The voter hears options and uses the keypad to choose, then emails the ballot to the county board of elections to be verified.

"We wanted to be able to vote by absentee just like everybody else," said Chris Bell, president of the North Carolina Council of the Blind.

Bell is pleased by the ruling -- first, because of what had been COVID-19 concerns.

"We have to have somebody come in and help us vote. Then we have social distancing issues, and you run the risk of getting the coronavirus," Bell said.

He's also happy because the freedom from paper absentee ballots gives blind voters some equity.

"It does feel like we have a greater say in the process, therefore a greater say in the outcome. So, we feel more empowered as citizens," Bell said.

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