CONCORD — State election officials said a new $30,000 contract will permit people who are blind or who have a print disability to vote by absentee ballot independently and in a secure manner prior to Tuesday’s primary.
The move came a week before the vote and clearly was in response to a federal lawsuit that disability advocates brought against the state in federal court two months ago.
The Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire (DRC-NH) and Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire (NFBNH), Granite State Independent Living (GSIL) and several New Hampshire voters with disabilities had asked a judge to order that the state come up with a system to allow these voters to cast secure ballots electronically.
“This new system will allow voters with print disabilities to use their own computer to mark their choices on an electronically delivered absentee ballot, which will then be returned to the voter’s city or town clerk and will be hand-counted on election day,” Secretary of State Bill Gardner said in a statement. “The voter’s choices will not be transmitted over the Internet.”
Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu used his emergency powers during COVID-19 to approve spending $30,000 in federal CARES Act money for a nonpartisan firm, VotingWorks, to provide this technology.
A print disability is the inability to read due to a physical impairment that includes blindness, dyslexia, brain injury or other cognitive impairment.
New Hampshire was one of only three states in the country not sued over giving disability groups proper access to voting in person at the polls following passage of the federal Help America Vote Act in 2002.
The state first came up with a “phone/fax” system that allowed these voters to cast ballots safely at the polling place.
Since then, the state has upgraded this program to provide a tablet computer at each polling place that displays candidate names, speakers to read the choices aloud, a keyboard to allow choices to be selected, and a printer to print the selections onto a final ballot to submit.
Gardner opposed internet voting
In response to the suit, Gardner had said computer consultants from MIT and California Institute of Technology advised him it was not possible to create an internet portal for individual voters to fill out absentee ballots that could be protected.
“My priority is to make sure we have a system that doesn’t allow anyone to see how people have voted,” Gardner had said.
This new system will permit these voters to request an absentee ballot electronically and then fill it out on their own computer.
The ballot is then printed out, and the voter returns a physical copy of the completed ballot to local election officials.
To check the status of their absentee application or ballot, the voter should call their city or town clerk, or the Secretary of State’s voting hotline at 833-726-0034.