[nfbmi-talk] md judge orders absentee voting access

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Fri Sep 5 12:20:58 UTC 2014

A victory for NFB, the blind and other people with disabilities.

Judge tells Md. to use online vote program . Spencer S. Hsu;Jenna R. Johnson. Absentee ballot system at issue in lawsuit over access for the disabled A

federal judge on Thursday ordered Maryland to allow disabled voters in November to fill out absentee ballots online before printing and mailing them to

election officials. The National Federation of the Blind and three individuals who are deaf, blind or palsied sued the Maryland State Board of Elections

to activate the computer ballot-marking tool, which the board developed with help from the federation. The tool was available to absentee voters in the

state's 2012 primary elections and to overseas voters that November. However, an improved version that makes it easier for people with disabilities to

use the tool was not certified by the election board for use this fall. The lawsuit was opposed by the American Council of the Blind of Maryland; two organizations

that work to promote election security, VerifiedVoting.org and SAVEourVotes.org; and three individuals, with different disabilities, who say the new software

is still not accessible to them and is vulnerable to being hacked. In a 33-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, sitting in Baltimore,

said the board's decision denied disabled plaintiffs "meaningful access to the State's absentee ballot voting program as mandated by the Americans with

Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Bennett wrote that "earlier uses of the tool appear to have been uneventful, and there has been no evidence

of security breaches connected to that use. In Maryland, anyone can vote by absentee ballot. People who need assistance can submit a form to have someone

help them fill out their ballots before they are signed and returned. The online ballot-marking tool allows disabled voters to use computer technology

- such as a mouse or voice-recognition software - to mark ballots privately and independently, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said. About 5 percent of Maryland

voters cast absentee ballots, and a fraction of them are disabled. "This ruling is a victory for Maryland voters with disabilities and puts election officials

across the nation on notice that full and equal access to voting includes access to absentee ballots, as well as to the voting equipment used at polling

places," Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind and the husband of one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. But opponents

said computer "spyware" could be used to reveal an absentee voter's choices to a third party. They also said the state election board's computer server

could be hacked while a completed ballot was being prepared for printing, giving the hacker information on a voter's choices. Pamela Smith, president of

VerifiedVoting, said the tool "recklessly ignores important privacy and security risks. . . . Forcing this tool to be available in its current state severely

compromises voter privacy and may call the results of Maryland elections into question. Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator of the state election

board, said the board is reviewing the opinion but will be ready to activate the tool once absentee ballots are sent to voters Sept. 19. "It's not online

voting," Charlson said. "It's a way to mark your ballot. It's a sophisticated pencil. David R. Paulson, a spokesman for state Attorney General Douglas

F. Gansler, said the office is reviewing the opinion, and he declined to comment. The ruling comes as a partisan battle over ballot access rages in many

states, with Democrats generally seeking expanded access to protect voters' rights and Republicans generally seeking limits to protect against voter fraud.

Bennett's ruling noted that spyware and hacking pose some security risk, but he also said a computer security firm - approved by an outside auditor who

was retained by the election board - found the tool to be secure. He wrote that an expert called by plaintiffs testified that the tool posed "no additional

risks that did not exist in other methods already available to voters. A 2013 state law required the five-member election board to certify the ballot-marking

tool by a supermajority, or fourth-fifths, vote. The board's three Democrats voted for certification at a July 10 meeting. One Republican, Charles Thomann

was absent, and the other, David J. McManus Jr., voted no. On Thursday, Thomann said he remained uncertain as to how he would have voted, and he deferred

to McManus, saying, "I'll agree with whatever he says. McManus declined to comment. A partial survey of states by the election board's staff found that

only Alaska and Delaware were making an online ballot-marking tool available to voters with disabilities this year, the judge wrote, although several states

do so for some overseas voters. spencer.hsu at washpost.com Get updates on your area delivered via email 



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