House committee considers measure to expand voting accessibility for visually impaired

A poll worker at in Illinois uses rubber gloves as she enters a ballot in the ballot box...
A poll worker at in Illinois uses rubber gloves as she enters a ballot in the ballot box Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Chicago.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 5:45 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Mail-in voting was encouraged in the 2020 general election as COVID-19 was spreading, but the voting method isn’t accessible for everyone.

Print-disabled voters, typically those who are visually impaired, often can’t cast a ballot without assistance. The blind community argues this hurts their ability to vote privately and independently.

“Illinois blind and print-disabled voters want the same right to vote by mail as sighted voters have,” said former National Federation of the Blind President Denise Avant.

“We should not have to fight so hard for equal access to the ballot in all of our elections,” she said. “We cannot go backward to a vote-by-mail system that is completely inaccessible for voters with print disabilities for the primary election.”

The bill in the House would allow the disabled to use their assistive technology to cast their ballot remotely, similar to vote by mail. It would go into effect for the November 2022 general election. However, blind community members argue this should go into effect in time for the June 28 primary.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, this could not be done in June,” witness Ray Campbell said. He cited several federal laws that require accessible voting, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“(The bill) is not the end of the issue,” Campbell continued. “We need, in the state of Illinois, to get the processes in place so that those of us with print disabilities can have complete and total access so that we can independently, receive, mark and cast our ballots electronically.”

In 2020, the Illinois State Board of Elections provided accessible voting by mail options for disabled individuals. Additionally, over half of the states have implemented equivalent accessibility measures, eight have implemented electronic return, according to Avant and Campbell.

The blind community argues Illinois can do it sooner, and are pushing for an amendment to the bill.

“No election is more important than the other,” Avant said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Katie Stuart said she shares the desire to implement electronic return voting.

The bill previously passed unanimously out of the Senate and now is waiting in the House Ethics and Elections Committee. There’s a deadline to have all bills out of committee by next Friday.

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