Accessible Absentee Voting for Maine People with 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.

(Under this Interim Agreement,) Print disabilities [1] 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 the 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

Additional Information about Accessible Absentee Voting for People with Print Disabilities

  • What does this news mean? Maine will now offer an accessible, electronically-delivered absentee ballot system for use by Maine voters with print disabilities.
  • What is a “print disability?” Under this Interim Agreement [1], “print disability may include, but it not limited to, vision impairment or blindness; physical dexterity limitations; learning disabilities such as dyslexia; brain injury or cognitive impairment; or dementia, all of which may prevent an individual from independently marking a traditional paper ballot.”
  • When does it go into effect? The system is in effect starting Friday, October 2, 2020.
  • How do I access this service to request a ballot? 
  • Questions? Contact John Goetz at Disability Rights Maine at (207) 619-4778 or at VotingAccess2020@drme.org 

Voting in Person on Election Day

Accessible Voting System in MaineMaine voters with disabilities may also vote in person on Election Day and use the accessible voting machine. 

The State of Maine provides the ExpressVote universal voting system as its Accessible Voting System. The ExpressVote is a ballot-marking device that allows individuals with disabilities to vote with privacy and independence.

Using this tabletop unit, voters can navigate through their ballot using a touchscreen, or a keypad and audio interface. The ExpressVote generates a printed ballot with the voter’s choices. Ballot scanners, which are in use in most of Maine’s voting places, can then count the ExpressVote ballot along with the other ballots, which helps to improve voter privacy.

The ExpressVote unit is not connected to a network and does not track or store voter choices. It is certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The State of Maine began offering an accessible voting solution in 2006, with the Inspire Vote-By-Phone ballot-marking system. The ExpressVote ballot-marking devices replaced the phone system in June 2016.

Voting Place Accessibility

Since 2006, the Secretary of State has worked with municipalities to enhance the physical accessibility of voting places as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The links below will provide additional information and resources to assist municipal officials in achieving compliance with physical accessibility requirements.

Use this link for more information about accessible voting in Maine.

Footnotes

  1. The term “print disability” used in this Interim Agreement is NOT the same as the term “other people with print disabilities” used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 Section 1414 (a) (23) (A) and elsewhere in the law.

Resources Available on Voting and Polling Place Accessibility

From the US Access Board:

The word "vote" with a wheelchair embeddedVoting is a fundamental and protected right for all citizens, including those with disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, people with disabilities must have full and equal opportunities to vote. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which regulates and enforces ADA mandates that apply to state and local governments, offers several guides on the subject. These include the “ADA Checklist for Polling Places,” [PDF] a 25-page resource DOJ recently updated that explains what makes a polling place accessible from entry onto the site to voting areas. It also recommends design remedies and provides a survey checklist for evaluating polling place accessibility. Other resources from DOJ include a bulletin [PDF]  that provides solutions to common access problems at polling places and a guide [PDF] to federal laws that protect the rights of voters with disabilities.

In addition to the ADA, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 established requirements for voting systems used in Federal elections and requires access to polling places and voting systems for persons with disabilities. Under the law, each precinct in the country must have at least one accessible voting machine or system so that people with disabilities, including those with vision impairments, are afforded the same opportunity for participation, including privacy and independence, available to other voters. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which implements HAVA and issues guidance on meeting the requirements of the law, including guidelines for voting systems, is another key resource on accessible voting. The EAC offers a “BeReady16” toolkit that includes a section on accessibility, and other resources on accessible polling places and voting systems for voters with disabilities and voting officials. Visit EAC’s website at www.eac.gov for further information.

Those who encounter accessibility issues in voting can contact the Voting Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division which enforces civil provisions of federal laws that protect the right to vote, including HAVA and the Voting Rights Act. Complaints can be filed through an online form or submitted at voting.section@usdoj.gov (email), (800) 253-3931 (phone), (202) 307-3961 (fax), or the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Room 7254 – NWB, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20530.