BIRMINGHAM, Mich., July 9 – A blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice was turned away from a clerk’s office while trying to retrieve and fill out his absentee ballot last week because the workers did not know how to get him his ballot.
Justice Richard Bernstein, who was elected as the first blind justice to the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2015, told local reporters that “I think what I experienced was the fact they didn’t have any idea what the protocol was,” and that he has nothing bad to say of the workers in the office, only that they simply did not know what to do.
Earlier this year, advocates for the blind sued the Michigan Secretary of State to provide online access for voting, which was made available in time for the primary in May; however, with absentee ballot applications being distributed to all voters in the state for the November election, this option no longer remains.
According to the 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total number of Michiganders with disabilities is 1,407,719, making up 14.2% of the state population.
Data from the U.S. Census shows that fully one-in-five Americans has some sort of disability, and including family members, those with close friends with disabilities and those who work on behalf of volunteer for a disability cause, that number jumps to 63%. Research from the 2018 election shows that this group serves as 74% of the likely voter population.
Polling places in Michigan are required to remove and make accommodations for any barriers that prevent voters with disabilities from voting, including allowing nonpartisan election judges or other individuals of the voter’s choosing to assist them in completing their ballots.
A June 26 update to the reporting from Click On Detroit indicates that “[the] Michigan Secretary of State [has launched a] temporary online fix for the blind so they can get their absentee ballot and vote online in August.”