A computer software engineer from Bucks County who is blind won a federal suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to accommodate visually impaired voters and others with disabilities when casting votes in the June 2 primary.
Joseph Drenth of Chalfont was a plaintiff along with the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, of which he is an officer.
Drenth, in the request for an injunction, claimed that he could not vote privately by way of paper ballot because someone would have to assist him, and that the novel coronavirus pandemic posed a risk for him and other people with disabilities to vote in person at a polling place.
U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer P. Wilson granted Drenth relief in the form of a preliminary injunction.
In accordance with the federal court order, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced Thursday that the Department of State will provide accessible write-in ballots to voters with disabilities who request one.
“These ballots will allow blind and low-vision voters to vote privately and independently in Tuesday’s primary,” Boockvar said. “We are committed to increasing accessibility for voters with disabilities and implementing a long-term solution for accessible ballots for the November election and beyond.”
Wilson on Wednesday mandated that the Department of State offer an accessible write-in primary ballot for voters with disabilities who request one.
To obtain an accessible write-in ballot, an individual must be an eligible Pennsylvania voter who applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot by the May 26 deadline and has not yet submitted a voted ballot.
A request must be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org for the accessible write-in ballot by 8 p.m. tonight. Included in the email must be the voter’s full name, date of birth and address where registered.
The voter must complete an accessible declaration electronically sent to them by the department and authenticate the declaration with a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license, a valid Pennsylvania state personal identification number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
The department will electronically transmit via email to the requesting voter an accessible write-in ballot, an accessible declaration form, accessible instructions, an accessible candidate list for the voter’s election district; and a write-in envelope.
Using their screen reader software, voters with disabilities can then vote in the privacy of their own homes, print their voted ballot and return it to their county elections office. Their county must receive their voted ballot by 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 2. A postmark is not sufficient.
Drenth is seeking other changes in the state’s system of voting on behalf of himself and others with disabilities before the Nov. 3 general election, but the judge noted this would take more time than was available before the primary.