COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A lawsuit brought by Disability Rights Ohio has succeeded in requiring Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office into providing accessible voting solutions for the blind.
NBC4 spoke with the woman behind the lawsuit.
Many people take voting for granted as just a simple procedure, but for those with disabilities like Shelbi Hindel, who has been blind since two, accessibility for voting has been a challenge.
“I still want to vote independently and I want to be able to have an option, like others have,” Hindel said.
She has been very mobile, raising two children to adulthood and working jobs for the state and federal governments.
Hindel said she has voted in person many times, but with difficulties. For one, she said, they keep changing her polling place.
“Now it is down at Tuttle Recreation Center, so I am required to take a bus, because it is too far to walk,” she said. “It is a pretty difficult walk from High Street with big parking spaces and open areas, which I have difficulties with.”
She has tried several options to vote at her polling place.
“Sometimes I took someone I knew, they would go into the poll with me, they would read the selections and push the buttons on the machine for me,” Hindel said.
Or in other cases, two poll workers, a Democrat and Republican, would be assigned to help her vote. She has used absentee voting which was also difficult before the lawsuit.
“Because I don’t want to trust someone to fill out an absentee ballot for me,” she said.
What it came down to she said was about voting in privacy.
“If you want to share that is you prerogative, you shouldn’t be forced into sharing that with anyone,” Hindel said.
The absentee ballot was paper-based, so people were not able to read it. The lawsuit was not based on electronic voting machines; they are required by Ohio law to have accessible machines that have speech capabilities.
Disability Rights Ohio, along with a local law firm, filed the lawsuit in 2015 under Hindel’s name and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in their favor last January.
The suit states blind voters in Ohio must be able to cast absentee ballots privately and independently. The Secretary of State’s Office put out a directive shortly after the suit.
The court order required Husted’s office to provide accessible ballot-marking solutions. The state had tried to have the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that accessible absentee ballots were not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The plaintiffs in this case wanted to be able to absentee vote privately and independently and they didn’t have that ability,” said Jason Boylan, an attorney with Disability Rights Ohio.
“We have so much to be thankful for and we should not take that for granted and we should vote,” Hindel said.
According to officials the online absentee accessibility tool, which will be on the Secretary of State web site will have to be tested, selected and implemented by September for the November election.