The American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Advocates sued the New York State Board of Elections and Department of Motor Vehicles over online voter registration that is inaccessible to people with disabilities.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, and individual plaintiffs who are blind. States are required by law to meet accessibility and confidentiality standards when providing services such as online voter registration, but New York is failing to comply, the complaint charges.
“Online voter registration is key to ensuring access to the ballot for people with disabilities. Yet in New York, it's not just difficult for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities to register online, it's virtually impossible," said ACLU attorney Susan Mizner. "We’ve told the state where the worst barriers are. It can easily fix the problems, but has refused to do so. ”
Those barriers include DMV web pages and downloadable forms that can't be read out loud by the screen-reader software used by blind and low-vision people to hear and navigate computer screen content. On the privacy rights front, the software cannot read the fillable form’s section on party affiliation on the Board of Elections website; blind and low-vision voters are forced to disclose this private information when they print out the form and get someone else to help them sign it, destroying their privacy and independence.
Plaintiff Eva Eason of New York City encountered numerous obstacles when attempting to update her voter information online after getting married. Eason, who is blind, could not access the DMV site at all, and was only able to access the Board of Elections online registration after getting technical and non-technical assistance from someone who is sighted, compromising her privacy and independence.
“A lot of people paved the way and fought for me to be able to vote, so why is New York making it so difficult?” said Eason.
Plaintiff Meghan Schoeffling of Albany added, “I was thrilled when New York created an online voter registration form, thinking it would enable me and others to register to vote privately and independently for the first time. But because the DMV failed to ensure the site was fully accessible, I was unable to register to vote without sighted assistance.”
The lawsuit cites violations of the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It seeks immediate adjustments to ensure the websites are legally compliant; creation of Board of Election policies that ensure accessibility and provide a clear path of accountability; and the development of policies and procedures to ensure the sites remain accessible.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Co-counsel in this case is Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.
Update: On February 25, 2019, the parties in this case announced a settlement agreement in which the State Board of Elections and the Department of Motor Vehicles have agreed to ensure fully accessible voter registration by the end of 2019. Their websites will be made accessible to screen-access software within two years, and they will work with an accessibility consultant to enact practices and procedures to ensure long term website accessibility.