U.S. judge orders last-minute ballot change to aid blind voters in Pa.’s primary election set for Tuesday

May 29, 2020 – 8:23 AM
By Matt Miller | mmiller@pennlive.com

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.