Visually impaired Virginia voters can now vote electronically, privately

Virginia Elections

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia voters who are blind or otherwise visually impaired can now vote electronically. The state was forced to make the absentee ballot option for visually impaired voters last year in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Now, Virginia election officials have made the email ballot a permanent option for those with disabilities.

Williamsburg resident Regina Root believes her right to vote is important.

“I had always voted in elections. I have voted, geez, since 1988 was my first presidential election,” Root said.

She has already requested an electronic ballot for the November election on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

However, during the presidential primary last year in the height of the pandemic, there was no way for her to vote both independently and safely.

“I see a very scrambled view of reality,” Root said while explaining her visual impairment. An optical nerve that was stretched to save her life during brain surgery left her print-impaired.

“My world is always moving because my eyes are always moving, so it makes it very challenging to read to stabilize,” explained Root.

Advised not to go to crowded polls in the pandemic and realizing a paper printed absentee ballot was out, she made an appointment to vote at the registrar’s office. They gave her husband a voter assistance form. She said, “I trust my husband, Michael Lewis. I trust him dearly but it was not an independent vote.”

Root and other disability advocates like Colleen Miller with the Disability Law Center of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the state in federal court.

“If you ever vote absentee you know that it’s a paper ballot and you have to mark your vote on the paper ballot, well that requires vision,” said Miller.

Miller said that during the pandemic people “couldn’t vote independently, they couldn’t vote privately, and they couldn’t have any kind confidence that the vote was actually be cast they want they wanted the vote cast.”

The state agreed to an electronic option last year that uses screen reader technology to read the print of the ballot to the voter. Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper says the Commonwealth agreed to make it a permanent option this year.

“Print disabled voters can request a ballot be emailed to them that they can mark on their computer and then they can send that in,” explained Piper.

Root says it works well and is easy to use. “I first used this technology in the presidential election last year and I think that it was incredible. To have that voice, to not worry about my safety. my health,” she said.

The last day to apply for an electronic ballot is October 22. You can find Virginia’s official guide on how to do apply here https://www.elections.virginia.gov/media/formswarehouse/absentee-voting/disability-incapacity/ADA-Voters-Guide.pdf

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