INDIANAPOLIS — A group of blind Hoosiers has filed a federal lawsuit against the Indiana Election Commission and the Indiana Secretary of State alleging they discriminate against voters who are blind or have low vision.
The lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana alleges the state's election officials discriminate against the blind by not offering the necessary accommodations that these voters need to vote privately and independently when using the absentee vote by mail program.
Hoosier voters who are blind or have low vision can only vote at home by appointment with a traveling board of elections officials. The voters, along with advocacy groups the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission and American Council of the Blind of Indiana, allege this leaves blind and low vision Hoosier voters left to risk exposing themselves to COVID-19 at the polls, giving up their right to vote privately and independently or not voting at all.
"The American Council of the Blind of Indiana has tried to bring this problem to the IEC and SOS's attention, but they have declined to work with us to implement an accessible way to vote at home. That's why this suit was necessary," Dee Ann Hart, a member of the board of directors of the ACB-I and its advocacy and awareness committee chair.
According to the lawsuit, there are examples of successful, accessible absentee voting programs currently being used by other states. Indiana's existing accessible military and overseas voting options could also be expanded to include voters who are blind or have low vision, according to the lawsuit.
"Because of Indiana's restrictive requirements, I was deprived of my vote during this year's general election," Wanda Tackett, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said. "My niece has vision impairment and I work with a young boy who is blind, and through this case, I want to empower them and other future voters to make sure that this kind of violation never happens again."
"Let's make equal access an integral part of voting and find ways to increase civic engagement rather than make it hard," Kristin Fleschner, another plaintiff, said. "Our officials and policies will only represent our ideals if everyone is able to vote privately and independently."