Final Judgment in DLC’s Emergency Petition Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

Contact: Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation

On August 21, 2020, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts – Charlson, et al., v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, No. SJ-2020-0588 – on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary.

Per “An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19,” enacted on July 6, 2020, registered Massachusetts voters with disabilities are entitled to receive access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot as an accommodation from the Secretary of the Commonwealth (“the Secretary”). This accommodation is intended to allow voters with disabilities the opportunity to electronically mark their ballot privately and independently using their own assistive technology, print their marked ballot, and mail or hand-deliver it to their local election official to be counted. However, by the date that DLC filed the Emergency Petition, the Secretary had not provided the public with any information concerning the availability of accessible electronic vote by mail or the process for requesting that accommodation from the Secretary. In addition, it was only on the date of filing that the Secretary signed a contract with VotingWorks to create Massachusetts’ accessible vote by mail online system.

The Secretary’s counsel informed Petitioners on August 24, 2020 of the creation of an Accessible Vote by Mail (AVBM) Coordinator position to process requests from voters for an accessible electronic ballot. Following a day of mediation, the Court entered a Judgment in the case on August 26 establishing an extended deadline and special processes to allow voters with disabilities to access an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primary, and retaining jurisdiction to resolve any further disputes. On August 27, the Court allowed the Parties’ Joint Motion to Amend the first judgment, below, filed to resolve a dispute of interpretation.  Altogether, the resulting final Judgment set forth the following:

1.    Registered voters seeking access to disability-based accommodations for the September 1, 2020 primary election received an extension from August 26, 2020 – the deadline for all voters to return their 2020 Application for Vote by Mail to the Secretary – until noon on August 28, 2020 to request said accommodations and submit an application to vote by mail. See Judgment at Para. 4.

2.    Registered voters seeking access to disability-based accommodations to vote by mail in the primary election shall be permitted to seek such accommodations from the Secretary by submitting:

a.    A request via email or telephone for an accommodation to the AVBM Coordinator stating that the voter seeks an accommodation by reason of a disability and including the voter’s first name, last name, date of birth, address at which the voter is registered to vote, mailing address, and an email address and/or telephone number; and

b.    A completed 2020 Application for Vote by Mail electronically. An acceptable application signature for this purpose shall be a handwritten signature or an electronic signature, which may consist of the voter’s typewritten name, if accompanied by a statement by the voter that the voter is disabled and does not otherwise have the ability to independently insert an electronic hand-drawn signature.  See Judgment at Para. 2, as amended by the Joint Motion to Amendment Judgment.

3.    If the AVBM Coordinator receives from the voter the completed accommodation request and application as set forth in paragraph 2 and verifies the voter’s registration, the Secretary shall:

a.    Add the voter to the accessible voting system operated by VotingWorks that provides access to an accessible electronic ballot and voter instructions. The AVBM Coordinator will provide the voter with an access PIN;

b.    Provide information to the voter by telephone or e-mail to permit the voter to ascertain the location of where the voter’s completed ballot must be sent in order to be officially cast with the voter’s local election office;

c.    Provide the voter by e-mail an accessible electronic version of the affidavit of compliance – created with the assistance of Petitioners for purposes of this agreement – that must accompany a ballot in order to be officially cast with the voter’s local election office; and

d.    Notify and direct the voter’s local election officials to send the voter by first-class mail: an inner envelope where the ballot is placed after voting which contains an affidavit of compliance to be filled out by the voter, and an outer envelope that is pre-addressed to the local election official with postage guaranteed. See Judgment at Paras. 3, 6.

4.    For the ballot of a voter voting pursuant to the Judgment to be counted, the voter’s local election office must receive (a) the completed and printed ballot and (b) the signed affidavit of compliance bearing the name of the voter, which can be either a printed and signed copy of the affidavit of compliance furnished by the Secretary pursuant to paragraph 3(c) or a printed and signed affidavit of compliance furnished by the local election officials pursuant to paragraph 3(d).

a.    Due to the limited time until the primary election and the potential that the official envelope provided by the local election office , voters voting pursuant to this agreement are permitted to submit these materials in the envelope provided by the local election office or their own envelope no later than the hour fixed for closing the polls on the day of the primary election. See Judgment at Para. 5.

5.    The Secretary shall display on the Election Division’s website information about how a voter may request an accommodation pursuant to this order for the September 1, 2020 primary election. The Secretary’s Election Division’s Twitter account shall also send a Tweet informing the public concerning the provisions of this Agreed Judgment. The Secretary shall also provide information relative to this Agreed Judgment to local election officials. See Judgment at Para. 7.

6.    At the close of business each business day between the date of this order and August 28, 2020, the Secretary shall through counsel report to the Petitioners the number of accommodation requests that have been received by the AVBM Coordinator and the number of requests that have been processed or remain unprocessed (including because the request itself is incomplete). See Judgment at Para. 8.

DLC once again thanks our individual petitioners, BSCB, and BCIL for their amazing assistance and support in getting this important resolution, especially given the incredibly short amount of time left to secure any meaningful relief. However, DLC believes that much more progress needs to be made in ensuring that Massachusetts voters with disabilities have equal access to all voting programs for the upcoming November general election and that granting such access is treated as a priority.

Per the reporting mandated by the Judgment, even with the benefit of the extension and additional measures ordered by the Court, only fourteen (14) people in the entire Commonwealth were approved access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot.  Eight (8) additional people attempted to gain access, but their requests for accommodation were deemed incomplete. As a result of the Secretary’s incredible delay in establishing necessary procedures to receive and process requests for accommodations, this is just a fraction of the voters with disabilities for whom an electronic ballot could have granted an opportunity to privately and independently participate in Vote by Mail during the primary election.

DLC invites feedback from voters with disabilities who cannot privately and independently complete paper Vote by Mail ballots and experienced barriers in getting access to an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primary election – whether due to the request for accommodation process requirements, the technology available to you (e.g., lack of a printer), or other reasons.


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SJC Judgement Issues in DLC’s Emergency Petition Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

For Immediate Release

Contact: Tatum A. Pritchard, Director of Litigation

On August 21, 2020, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB), and the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary. Per “An Act relative to voting options in response to COVID-19,” enacted on July 6, 2020, registered Massachusetts voters with disabilities are entitled to receive access to an accessible electronic vote by mail ballot as an accommodation from the Secretary of the Commonwealth (“Secretary”). This accommodation is intended to allow voters with disabilities the opportunity to electronically mark their ballot privately and independently using their own assistive technology, print their marked ballot, and mail or hand-deliver it to their local election official to be counted. By the date of filing, the Secretary had not provided the public with any information concerning the availability of accessible electronic vote by mail or the process for requesting that accommodation from the Secretary.

Today, the Court entered a Judgement in the case concerning accessible electronic vote by mail concerning the special processes that will be made available to the voters with disabilities who seek access to an electronic ballot for the September 1, 2020 primaries, and retaining jurisdiction to resolve any further disputes. Please be aware, a part of this Judgement, the deadline for requesting access to an electronic ballot for the primary election has been extended from August 26, 2020 to August 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM. The processes for requesting an accessible electronic ballot and for casting your electronic ballot for the fast-approaching primaries are described below.

DLC thanks our individual petitioners, BSCB, and BCIL for their amazing assistance and support in getting this resolution, especially given the incredibly short amount of time left to secure any meaningful relief. However, DLC believes that much more progress needs to be made in ensuring that Massachusetts voters with disabilities have equal access to all voting programs for the upcoming November general election.

DLC invites every voter who requires the accommodation of accessible electronic vote by mail in order to vote privately and independently who is not able to get access to an electronic ballot for the primaries to report the specific barriers that you experienced – whether due to the request for accommodation process, the technology available to you, or other reasons.

How to Request an Accessible Electronic Ballot

In order to get access to the Accessible Vote by Mail System, a voter must first submit a request for accommodation to Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator electronically to Kelly.Emmons@sec.state.ma.us by August 28, 2020 at 12:00 PM. A voter may also reach the Coordinator by phone at 617-727-2828.

As part of the request for accommodation for the September 1, 2020 primary election, the voter must first provide the Coordinator the following information:

  1. A statement confirming that the voter is registered to vote and requesting use of accessible vote by mail because of a disability;
  2. Full name (first, middle, last);
  3. Voter registration address (street address, city/town, zip code);
  4. Mailing address, if different than voter registration address;
  5. Date of birth;
  6. Email address; and
  7. Phone number.

Second, the voter must email the Coordinator an electronic 2020 Vote by Mail Application available HERE with all of the fields completed, including the date and signature (electronic signature is acceptable). If, because of your disability, you are unable to manually sign or add an electronic signature to the Application form, DLC urges you to also state in your request for accommodation email that you also require an accommodation from the Secretary permitting you to type your name in the signature line of the Application form.

How to Complete the Electronic Ballot and Cast Your Vote

Once the request and Application are received and processed, the Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator will contact the voter to provide further instructions. The voter’s email address and phone number are requested to ensure that the Accessible Vote by Mail Coordinator can provide the voter with information necessary to access the System.

A voter approved for an Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot will receive a PIN from the Coordinator that will provide entry into the System to complete the Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot. The voter will also receive by email from the Coordinator an accessible electronic affidavit of compliance that must accompany the electronic ballot in order to be officially cast. In addition, the Coordinator will provide the voter will contact information for the voter’s local election office address.

A voter approved for an Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot will also be mailed by first-class mail an inner envelope where electronic ballot is placed after voting that has on it an affidavit of compliance to be filled out by the voter (signature line indicated by hole punch) that is similar in substance to the electronic affidavit of compliance, and an outer envelope that is pre-addressed to the local election official with postage guaranteed. BECAUSE THE PRE-ADDRESSED, POSTAGE PAID ENVELOPE FROM THE LOCAL ELECTION OFFICE MAY NOT ARRIVE IN TIME FOR YOUR BALLOT TO BE COUNTED BY THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 PRIMARY, voters may alternatively mail their completed and printed Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot and electronic affidavit of compliance in the voter’s own envelope with necessary postage.

The envelope containing a completed Electronic Vote by Mail Ballot and signed affidavit of compliance must either be mailed to your local election office or hand-delivered to your local election office, an official ballot return box, or to an early voting location during early voting hours.

YOUR LOCAL ELECTION OFFICE MUST RECEIVE THE ENVELOPE WITH YOUR ELECTRONIC VOTE BY MAIL BALLOT AND THE AFFIDAVIT BY 8:00 PM ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2020.


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DLC Files Emergency Petition with the SJC Concerning Accessible Electronic Vote by Mail

August 21, 2020

Today, DLC filed an Emergency Petition with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on behalf of six individual petitioners, Bay State Council of the Blind, and the Boston Center for Independent Living concerning the unavailability of accessible electronic vote by mail for the fast-approaching September 1, 2020 primary.


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A message from our Executive Director

Friends,

Our nation has been rocked by tragedy and pain during the past few months. We were shaken by the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on the disability community and communities of color and the widespread economic devastation that followed. As if this wasn’t enough, during the past three months we have also witnessed the senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now – George Floyd. These murders are the most recent in a long line of injustices and indignities suffered by Black men and women and black transgender people throughout the Nation. As an organization committed to promoting the civil and human rights of all persons with disabilities – and in respect of the undeniable intersections that exist between disability, race, and socioeconomic status in this country – we stand in solidarity with the Black community during these difficult times. Our communities are in pain and we share the fear, anger, and sadness felt by so many. Please know that:

We See You.

We Hear You.

We Stand With You in the fight to eliminate racism and advance racial justice.

Yours in the struggle,

Marlene Sallo

Marlene Sallo
Executive Director
Disability Law Center

Investigations of MCI-Shirley and MCI-Norfolk

On April 27, 2020, DLC informed the Department of Correction that it had found probable cause to initiate investigations of MCI-Shirley and MCI-Norfolk based on reports of prisoners with disabilities within the facilities being denied appropriate treatment and services and living in unsanitary conditions.

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DLC & Partners Urge DPH to adopt a statewide hospital visitor policy to accommodate people with disabilities during COVID-19.

DLC and several partners submitted a letter to the Department of Public Health on April 17th urging the adoption of a statewide hospital visitor policy that includes reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who require a support person to remain with them in the hospital.

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