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National Federation of the Blind of Alabama and Voters Sue Alabama Counties for Inaccessible Absentee Voting

MOBILE, Ala. — The National Federation of the Blind of Alabama and four individuals — Beverly Clayton, Gilley Pressley, Dr. Eric Peebles, and David Rissling — filed a lawsuit today against three Alabama counties for their failure to provide an accessible option for absentee voting by blind and print-disabled voters. The defendants are the absentee election managers in Tuscaloosa, Mobile and Jefferson counties. 

“Alabama has an abysmal record of broken promises and failure to respect and protect the rights of the state’s blind voters,” said Barbara Manuel, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. “We cannot tolerate this state of affairs and are determined to change it.” 

The lawsuit alleges that these counties violate the rights of blind and print-disabled voters under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by failing to provide an accessible means to mark and return absentee ballots. Blind and print-disabled voters rely on accessible technology, such as screen readers or magnification programs, to vote independently and privately. However, the defendants have not implemented remote accessible vote-by-mail (RAVBM) systems that allow the use of such technology, making it impossible for blind and print-disabled voters to mark and return their ballots without assistance and thereby denying them their right to a secret ballot. By failing to implement accessible absentee voting options, the plaintiffs argue, the defendants are effectively disenfranchising blind and print-disabled voters. 

Technology allowing blind and print-disabled voters to read, mark, and return absentee ballots electronically is readily available and being used in other states for these voters. Alabama makes an RAVBM system available to military and overseas voters but has denied its use to voters with disabilities. 

The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to compel the defendants to provide an accessible option for absentee voting, as well as attorney’s fees and costs associated with the lawsuit. They are represented by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP of Baltimore, Maryland. 

“These three Alabama counties have effectively denied voters with visual and print disabilities of their right to cast an absentee ballot in secret,” said SPLC Senior Staff Attorney Jess Unger. “We are suing on their behalf to ensure they have full access to the democratic process.”