You can now listen to the major events of the 2020 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. To access the links to the recordings, please visit www.nfbp.org/convention/past-conventions/2020-state-convention.
Hello Fellow Blind Voters in PA,
Please Join Us For This Most Important Demonstration!!!
We are excited to share the below demonstration sponsored by Democracy Live. The Founder/CEO, Bryan Finney, and Director of Outreach will be hosting a demonstration for the OmniBallot on Thursday evening, at 8:00 PM, specifically for the state of Pennsylvania, as the voting process varies from state to state. Any blind voter living in Pennsylvania is welcome.
Requesting an accessible mail-in or absentee ballot:
Topic: PA OmniBallot Demo
Time: Oct 15, 2020 05:00 PM Pacific Time / 8:00 PM Eastern
Host: Charlie Kinnune
Co-Host: Bryan Finney
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 973 5979 5580
+1 253 215 8782
One tap mobile
I am looking forward to seeing all of you at this Zoom presentation,
NFB of PA
We are pleased to offer 2020 Election materials, available to all subscribers, including subscribers who reside in non-sponsored states. The section includes “Candidate 2020 Searches,” a collection of several searches for “Biden” and “Trump” which scan the top hundred newspapers, breaking news, international newspapers, and magazines, in addition to information collected from the websites of each candidate. It also includes the “States Voting Guide 2020” which lists voting procedures and deadlines by state. To access this information on a telephone, select option 1 off the main menu, followed by option 2 for the election 2020 materials. If you are using the NFB-NEWSLINE mobile app, first select “All Publications” followed by either “Candidate 2020 Searches”, “States Voting Guide 2020”, “Joe Biden Campaign” or “Donald Trump Campaign”.
For each candidate, there is a bio section, as well as sections relating to their platforms and issues, coalitions, and recent news. Also available are the NFB’s own Guide for Blind and Low Vision Voters and Voting Guide for Young People who are Blind or Visually Impaired. For subscribers using Web News on Demand, select “Publications Organized Alphabetically” and locate the one you are interested in.
We hope that you enjoy this new offering and it provides valuable information to you.
Just days before Tuesday’s primary election, a federal judge has ordered Pennsylvania officials to make a last-minute albeit “imperfect” change to enable blind and vision-impaired people to effectively cast their ballots.
U.S. Middle District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson ‘s decision requires the Department of State to provide “Accessible Write-In Ballot” forms that will allow those voters to cast ballots by mail and avoid going to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic.
That means visually impaired voters will have the same option as other voters who can avoid the polls and the risk of COVID-29 contagion.
Wilson issued her ruling a week after the National Federation of the Blind filed a civil rights suit against the state, claiming the mail-in ballots being provided for the primary were not adequate for blind voters and so breached their voting rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The federation said it had been warning state officials about the problem for months.
Wilson granted the group’s request for a preliminary injunction requiring the state to provide suitable ballots for its constituents. She did not, however, order state officials to use the ballot preferred by the federation.
The federation lobbied for use of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ballot that is available to military personnel stationed outside the U.S. That ballot was used by Michigan when it had to make a last-minute adaptation for the blind during its primary last month.
Wilson said the tight time frame makes the Accessible Write-In Ballot the better option for Pennsylvania. “The court believes it is more equitable to order a feasible and moderately adequate remedy over no remedy at all,” she wrote.
The case isn’t over. Both sides will keep arguing before Wilson to come up with a long-term solution to the voting issue.
Staff and wire reports | The Reading Eagle, May 29, 2020
Some county and state officials are warning that a flood of mailed-in ballots in Pennsylvania, fueled by fears of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic, will cause problems in Tuesday’s primary election that must be fixed before they cause a disaster in November’s presidential election.
They are warning that there will be no way to produce timely election results in November unless the law changes to allow counties to process mailed-in ballots before Election Day. Even in Tuesday’s relatively low turnout primary election, election night results might be unlikely in closely contested races, they say.
“No one wants to be in the situation where the U.S. presidential race is coming down to Pennsylvania and there is a week or two delay on us in delivering a victor,” said state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia.
Boyle plans to sponsor legislation to give counties more time to process the ballots, starting the Saturday before the election.
Boyle, with support from county election directors, pushed for a similar change in March when lawmakers voted to delay the primary election by five weeks to June 2. However, it lacked support from Republicans who control the House and Senate majorities.
Of more immediate concern is the question of whether voters can mail their ballots back to county election offices in time to be counted in Tuesday’s primary election. The deadline in state law is 8 p.m. that night.
But some ballots are still in the mail to voters, less than a week before the primary election. A U.S. Postal Service spokesperson said most first-class mail is delivered in two to five days, but the Postal Service recommends that voters mail their ballots at least one week before the deadline to have them delivered to county election officials.
Montgomery County asked the state Commonwealth Court for an emergency order Wednesday granting seven additional days for ballots postmarked no later than Election Day to arrive and be counted. Other efforts to that effect in lower courts have failed.
Some counties are working to provide alternatives, such as posting drop boxes in strategic locations, to voters who have not mailed in their ballots.
More than 1.8 million voters have requested a mail-in or absentee ballot, according to state officials. More than 730,000 have been returned, state figures show.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said her estimate for the number of applications had been “blown out of the water” and that she at least hoped to work with lawmakers to change the law before the November election.
Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said county election directors had been unified in urging state lawmakers to let them process mailed-in ballots before election day, even before the pandemic hit.
“We need to adjust our expectations that it’s going to be possible to have final results in the same manner that we’ve become accustomed to, unless we change the law for the general and future elections,” she said.
Tuesday is the first election in Pennsylvania in which the option of no-excuse mail-in ballots are available to voters following a sweeping election reform law signed in October by Wolf.
Rep. Garth Everett, R- Lycoming, who chairs the House committee that handles election issues, said the primary election will have to serve as a test tube of sorts for how counties can handle all the mail-in ballots.
The idea to let counties process mailed-in ballots before Election Day has run into concerns from Republicans that vote totals would leak out early, Everett said.
Everyone may need to get used to a longer wait time to get an election result, Everett said, and any problems in the primary election may solidify support among Republicans to change the law before November’s presidential election.
“This is going to be our experiment to see what we may need to fine-tune for the fall,” Everett said.
Accessibility at issue
Also, the Pennsylvania Department of State announced Thursday that it will provide accessible write in ballots to voters with disabilities who request one, in order to allow “blind and low-vision voters to vote privately and independently in Tuesday’s primary,” according to a press release.
A U.S. District Court judge issued an order on Wednesday mandating that the department offer an accessible write-in primary ballot for voters with disabilities who request one, the release said.
The Disability Rights Pennsylvania organization said a lawsuit spurring the preliminary injunction “alleges that Pennsylvania violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act by denying equal access to the absentee and mail-in ballot process to blind voters. The paper ballots used by Pennsylvania do not allow blind votes to vote secretly and independently, like other voters, and instead requires them to rely on sighted third-parties for assistance.”
Voters with disabilities can use screen reader software to vote at home, print their voted ballot and return it to their county elections office, the organization said, adding that “plaintiffs will press for an online ballot system that is fully accessible to blind voters for use in all future elections beginning in November 2020.”
State Ordered to Implement System Allowing the Blind to Cast Absentee and Mail-in Ballots Privately and Independently
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (May 28, 2020): A federal district judge has ordered the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide an accessible write-in ballot (AWIB) to blind Pennsylvania voters for the June 2 primary election. The ruling is a victory for Joseph Drenth, a blind Chalfont resident, who fears going to his local polling place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Drenth’s immune system is slightly compromised, and his wife and mother-in-law, with whom he lives, both have asthma and complicating factors.
The Honorable Jennifer P. Wilson, district judge for the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, issued a temporary restraining order after a Wednesday hearing in the lawsuit that Mr. Drenth and the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania (NFB-PA) filed last week. The court’s order requires the state to provide blind voters with a list of the candidates on the ballot for their voting district along with an accessible electronic form on which they can type in their choices for each office. Blind Pennsylvania voters who wish to use the AWIB must request the accessible form by no later than 8PM on Friday, May 29. Eligible voters must have applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot by the May 26, 2020 deadline, and not yet have submitted a paper ballot. The AWIB must be submitted along with a declaration and a valid identification number. Voters must return their AWIB materials by first-class mail or hand-delivery to the County Board of Elector’s office in the voter’s jurisdiction by no later than 8:00 p.m. on June 2, 2020.
More details are available in this press release from the Pennsylvania Department of state.
The lawsuit, which will continue in order to resolve the question of accessible absentee and mail-in ballot solutions for elections later this year, alleges violations of Title II of the Americans with disabilities act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. The plaintiffs were represented by Disability Rights Pennsylvania and Brown Goldstein Levy LLP.
“Although this temporary solution is not ideal, we commend Judge Wilson for ruling expeditiously, for making it clear that commonwealth officials must respect the rights of blind voters, and for recognizing that the status quo was unacceptable,” said Lynn Heitz, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. “In light of this ruling and the judge’s clear direction at the hearing, we hope that the commonwealth will work quickly with us to identify and implement a fully ADA-compliant voting solution for future elections.”
About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at www.nfb.org.
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)
When you send an email to the address firstname.lastname@example.org listed below to request your accessible write-in ballot, please add the following as a carbon copy (CC recipient of the email: email@example.com.
We need to track how many individuals make this request. Thank you very much.
For Immediate Release
May 28, 2020
Harrisburg, PA | On May 27, 2020, a federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction requiring Pennsylvania to provide an accessible option to blind voters who want to vote by mail for the primary election on June 2.
The lawsuit, Joseph Drenth and the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania v. Secretary Kathryn Boockvar and the Department of State of Pennsylvania, 20-cv-00829 (M.D. Pa.), alleges that Pennsylvania violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act by denying equal access to the absentee and mail-in ballot process to blind voters. The paper ballots used by Pennsylvania do not allow blind votes to vote secretly and independently, like other voters, and instead requires them to rely on sighted third-parties for assistance.
This violation of blind voters’ civil rights is particularly harmful for the upcoming June 2, 2020 primary since blind voters, like many others, do not want to risk their health and that of their loved ones by voting in person in crowded polling places. Plaintiffs filed a motion to require Pennsylvania to adopt an interim solution to provide accessible absentee and mail-in ballots to blind voters so they can vote in the June 2 primary.
Following a hearing yesterday, the court determined that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits because they “have been denied the benefits of a public program – in this case the ability to vote privately and independently without being physically present at a polling location – because of their disability.” Mem. at 12. The court also held that plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury without a preliminary injunction “because they are effectively forced to choose between forfeiting their right to vote privately and independently or risking their health and safety by traveling to a polling place to vote in person.” Mem. at 13.
To obtain an accessible write-in ballot, an individual must:
- Be an eligible Pennsylvania voter who applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot by the May 26, 2020, deadline and has not yet submitted their voted ballot.
- Submit an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org for the accessible write-in ballot by 8 p.m. on May 29, 2020 . Include in the email the voter’s full name, date of birth and address where registered.
- Complete an accessible declaration electronically sent to them by the department and authenticate the declaration with a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license, a valid Pennsylvania state personal identification number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
The department will electronically transmit via email to the requesting voter: (1) an accessible write-in ballot; (2) an accessible declaration form; (3) accessible instructions; (4) an accessible candidate list for the voter’s election district; and (5) a write-in envelope.
Using their screen reader software, voters with disabilities can then vote in the privacy of their own homes, print their voted ballot and return it to their county elections office. Their county must receive their voted ballot by 8 p.m. on June 2. A postmark is not sufficient.
The lawsuit will continue, and Plaintiffs will press for an online ballot system that is fully accessible to blind voters for use in all future elections beginning in November 2020.
Kelly Darr, Legal Director for Disability Rights Pennsylvania and co-counsel with Brown Goldstein & Levy, LLP for Plaintiffs, said that “We understand this is not an optimally accessible solution, but it is an option for blind voters to vote in secrecy and independently who otherwise might have had to vote in person – or forego voting altogether – during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania and their counsel expect to secure a fully accessible online ballot process in time for the November general election.”
For questions or comments, please contact:
Helping the affiliate has now become as easy as drinking your morning cup of coffee!! As featured at the 2019 State Convention, White Cane Coffee and the National Federation of the Blind of PA are working together.
Purchase your coffee here:
10% of the sales will come back to us – the NFB of PA – so we can continue to help our fellow blind and increase our programs for our seniors, students, and children!
Spread the word!
You can now listen to the major events of the 2019 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. To access the links to the recordings, please visit www.nfbp.org/convention/past-conventions/2019-state-convention.
A few months ago, a group of people representing the blindness-related organizations in Pennsylvania, led by Steve Pennington of the Client Assistance Program, wrote a position paper for keeping the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) strong and independent. This paper presented the arguments against merging BBVS into the general disability vocational rehabilitation program. For those of you who will be attending the NFB of Pennsylvania convention in person or via the stream, Steve Pennington will be referring to this position paper in his presentations about how to help BBVS accomplish its purpose of helping blind and visually-impaired individuals attain employment.