The state’s Human Rights Commission has filed a lawsuit against the Division of Elections, its Director Gail Fenumiai, and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, alleging that Alaska’s special mail-in election for the vacant congressional seat robs voters who are blind, because they have no good way to vote privately or independently, as they do in regular elections.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of a plaintiff referred to only as “B.L.,” asking the court to stop the certification of the results of the June 11 special primary election until blind voters have “a full and fair opportunity to participate.”
There are options for voters, including using custom computer technology to vote, and most visually impaired adults have access to such technologies. But perhaps B.L., who lives in Anchorage, does not have access to a computer, the Internet, and the adaptive software.
“A visually impaired voter may identify, and vote for, a candidate using this electronic option privately only by using screen reading technology which reads the text aloud. However, this option is only available to those visually impaired voters who have access to a private computer with internet access. Additionally, to ensure privacy, this option requires a visually impaired voter to access and fold their ballot in absence of any instructions regarding the same; any requirement of dependence on another individual to facilitate this process precludes the voter’s privacy,” the lawsuit states.
The Division has published June 25 as the target date for the certification of the election. As of now, the votes will be counted and announced starting Saturday night, unless a judge blocks the state from being able to proceed.
If the judge agrees and stops the election, the very results of the election may come into question, and be subject to lawsuits, as ballots sit uncounted for an unspecified period of time. The Law Department says the fact that the lawsuit was filed just three days before the end of the election poses serious challenges and that the Division of Elections is not doing anything differently than it has in the past.
The June 11 special primary election will determine which four names will go on the special general election ballot, which must be printed and mailed to overseas voters along with the regular primary ballots that are voted at the same time. Candidates will not know how they performed and won’t have the information to decide whether to continue as a candidate during the regular election cycle for the congressional seat. The deadline for withdrawing is June 26.
The Division of Elections must then print the general-and-primary combo ballot and has until July 1 to mail the ballot to overseas voters. Any delay in the process could upend the entire election, which is on a tight schedule due to the untimely death of Congressman Don Young on March 18.