A legal dispute over when Ohio deprives blind voters of their right to a secret ballot must be heard in federal court, an appellate court ruled Monday. Because blind voters must seek assistance from sighted individuals to fill out the paper ballots set aside for the sight-impaired, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that a district court judge must consider factual claims contending that Ohio deprives them of their equal opportunity to vote privately and independently. Judge George Smith of U.S. District Court had ruled in favor of Secretary of State Jon Husted, noting that the changes proposed by groups representing blind voters would fundamentally alter Ohio’s voting program. But the appellate panel essentially said Smith should not merely have taken Husted at his word.
Disability Rights Ohio and other groups asked Husted’s office to accommodate blind voters as other states have, while preserving their right to a secret vote.
Husted countered that he couldn’t modify the voting equipment as the lawsuit requested without violating state law surrounding certification requirements for voting equipment. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that governmental entities need not accommodate disabled individuals if doing so “would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program, or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens.”
While that may be true in the current case, the appeals judges said the state must prove it.