For the November general election, Hoosiers with print disabilities who vote absentee from home will once again be able to select the person of their choice to assist in marking their paper ballot. Use of a traveling board is permissive, not mandatory, for the November election, according to a Sept. 2 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, who issued a similar order before the May primary. More importantly, according to Rosa Lee Bichell, staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, “The court has now officially determined that Indiana’s current absentee voting system discriminates against voters with print disabilities.”

That ruling is specific to absentee voting from home involving voters with print disabilities. The ruling stems from a case filed in late 2020 alleging Indiana’s voting system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and deprives blind and low vision Hoosiers of their right to vote independently and privately.

The plaintiffs are Kristin Fleschner of Vigo County, Rita Kersh of Lawrence County and Wanda Tackett of Vanderburgh County. They were joined by the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission and American Council of the Blind of Indiana. In their lawsuit against the Indiana Election Commission and the Indiana Secretary of state, they contend Indiana discriminates against voters who are blind or have low vision by not offering necessary accommodations.

According to Bichell, the order issued for the May election was a preliminary injunction. It tentatively found that Indiana’s absentee voting system discriminates against voters with print disabilities and temporarily made the traveling board permissive for the May election only. “This order, on the other hand, definitively says that Indiana’s absentee voting (system) is discriminatory,” Bichell wrote in an email.

The order grants the plaintiff’s motion seeking a declaratory judgment that Indiana’s current procedures for absentee voting from home discriminate against voters with print disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

While the judge’s recent ruling still only temporarily makes the traveling board permissive rather than mandatory for the upcoming November election, “This order indicates that Indiana will need to determine a more permanent accessible solution going forward,” Bichell stated.

Plaintiffs are looking for a system that allows voters with print disabilities to vote absentee “completely privately and independently, without relying on any kind of assistance, whether traveling board or family member,” Bichell said. Fleschner, in a statement, said, “It is important that Judge Magnus-Stinson recognized the discriminatory nature of the current system. The defendants have been given a lot of opportunity to stop discriminating against voters, including by using accessible electronic absentee voting systems already in place in other states.”

A voter with print disabilities is a voter who cannot independently mark a paper ballot or ballot card due to blindness, low vision, or a physical disability that limits manual dexterity.

The plaintiffs are seeking only injunctive relief, not monetary damages, and are represented by attorneys from Indiana Disability Rights and Disability Rights Advocates.

Litigation will continue as plaintiffs seek a long-term remedy, Bichell said.
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