AUGUSTA, Maine — A lawsuit that led to a system for Mainers with print disabilities to cast absentee ballots online is being settled in an agreement that formalizes a requirement for a system for those plaintiffs to vote online in private, without assistance, from their homes.
A federal judge must sign off on the agreement.
Lynn Merrill, who in the past could not cast a private absentee ballot because she’s blind, called the settlement “monumental.”
“The idea is not only for people experiencing vision loss, but also for people with other print disabilities: Dyslexia, muscular dystrophy, a number of medical conditions,” she told the Kennebec Journal.
Merrill didn’t feel comfortable voting in person in the June primary election because of the pandemic. She also wasn’t satisfied with the option of having someone help her fill out the absentee ballot and a second person to sign off that the vote wasn’t under duress. So she didn’t vote at all.
“I did not feel safe going to the polls for the election, and I refused to give up my right to a private ballot by having someone else do it for me,” she said.
Disability Rights Maine brought the lawsuit on behalf of Merrill and three others in July. The secretary of state’s office responded by putting a system in place before the November election.
The online system is intended for voters with vision impairment, physical dexterity limitations, learning disabilities or cognitive impairments. Voters also have access to a polling place system that allows them to mark their ballot independently using a touchscreen, a controller pad or audio inputs.
Kristin Aiello, managing attorney for Disability Rights Maine, said the lawsuit during the pandemic was necessary to “ensure our clients could vote equally, safely and effectively.”
“This is assuring our fundamental right to cast a private and independent ballot,” Merrill saidl.