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New York agrees to expand voting access for people with disabilities


Voting in New York will become easier for blind and disabled residents following the settlement of a lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections this week.

Under the new terms, the state board has until June 1 to create an electronic voting method that will allow voters with disabilities who make it difficult to read or write text, such as blindness or paralysis, to print online ballots and mail them back.

“Through this agreement, the New York State Board of Elections has enabled people with print disabilities to vote with greater privacy and independence,” said Timothy A. Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New. York, in a statement.

The initial complaint filed in May 2020 stated that voters with disabilities who did not want to vote in person for fear of contracting Covid-19 were barred from voting by mail because they were unable to independently complete ballots. of paper voting.

Once the new system is in place, voters with disabilities will be able to request ballot papers from their local electoral commissions up to 15 days before any election. These ballots will be accompanied by postage-paid return envelopes and “oath envelopes” which will feature raised markers indicating where visually impaired voters can sign their names, although the council will accept written signatures anywhere on the ballots. envelopes.

The new system will also allow voters with disabilities to mark their ballot electronically using computer software. which describes text and images in sound. The marked ballots can then be printed and mailed.

The settlement requires the board to pay $400,000 in attorney fees to those who sued.

John Conklin, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said the board would work to get the new system up and running in time for the state’s primary elections in June, but added that the deadline was “very, very tight. “.

If the council is unable to implement the electronic voting system by June 1, voters will still be able to request digital ballots that they can fill out, he said.

In June 2020, as the pandemic raged, the state made absentee voting a little easier. Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order allowing all residents to request ballots for state primary elections and general elections.

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