Blind Maryland Voters Settle Lawsuit Against State Election Officials

This week, the National Federation of the Blind, its Maryland affiliate, and three blind registered Maryland voters – Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager, and Joel Zimba – settled the lawsuit they brought two years ago against the State Board of Elections and Administrator Linda Lamone.

The lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by denying blind individuals an equal opportunity to vote in person by secret ballot.

At issue are the state’s ExpressVote ballot-marking devices – which can allow voters who are blind or have motor disabilities to use headphones, magnification, touchscreens, and other tools to cast ballots independently.

The machines do not record votes. Instead, they mark a paper ballot that is printed and scanned. The lawsuit alleged that because ExpressVote paper ballots are a different size and shape than paper ballots filled out by hand, votes cast by voters with disabilities are immediately discernable.

According to the NFB, State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone and the Board agreed to take several measures to address issues raised in the lawsuit, including:

  • The state elections administrator will take specific steps to ensure that additional ballot-marking devices (BMDs) are available at the individual plaintiffs’ assigned polling locations, at other voting locations where there have been issues in past elections or where securing a replacement BMD may take longer, and at all early voting or election day voting centers if such centers are used.
  • The training materials issued to election judges by the state will instruct them to ensure that at least ten voters at each polling location use BMDs, and election judges at polling places that do not meet this requirement will be subject to additional monitoring and training.
  • In the Board’s next request for proposals for a new voting system, the State Administrator will include the capability for the BMD to produce a ballot substantially similar in size, shape, and content to hand-marked paper ballots as a factor in the determination of which voting system to purchase or lease.
  • The Board will not discourage the use of BMDs or encourage the use of hand-marked paper ballots to the exclusion of BMDs in formal messaging to the public or in training and other messaging to election judges, except in certain circumstances such as long wait times, malfunctioning equipment or software, or security threats affecting BMDs.
  • The state administrator will provide the National Federation of the Blind with data about the use of BMDs, and about complaints by voters with disabilities regarding BMDs or their functioning and availability, for each election through 2024.

Subject to approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works, the state will also pay $230,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

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