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Does Boockvar have a voter disenfranchisement problem brewing?

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is touting a change in Pennsylvania election laws that will allow everyone in the state to cast a no-excuse mail-in ballot if they want to.

The move is supposed to ensure enhanced health and safety as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and as voters remain uncomfortable about voting in person given transmission risks (67 people in Wisconsin got COVID-19 apparently after voting in-person in a recent election in the state; a Chicago poll worker died of COVID-19 and might have infected in-person voters at the ballot box).

But Boockvar's "solution" here apparently isn't for one for a select group of voters: Disabled voters who need assistance to cast a ballot, either in person or at home, and who are self-isolating alone during the pandemic.

The American Council of the Blind last month demanded that voters in this category be given a third option for voting: Online voting.

The rationale for ACB's proposed solution is that contrary to what many public officials think, most blind voters cannot read braille, many of them live alone, and that means that if they are self-isolating - as we're all being advised to do right now - they won't be able to vote by mail. In turn, that means they'll have to physically go to the polls to vote in person if they want to vote in the upcoming primary - or in November.

Disability advocates say the same will be true of many voters with Parkinson's, whether or not they live alone. That's because their signatures rarely match those on the voter file, meaning that if they vote by mail, there is a higher than normal chance their ballot will be discounted or even discarded.

But whether we're talking blind voters or Parkinson's voters, the problem for Pennsylvania could be the same: If some better, third option isn't made available to allow these voters to cast a ballot safely, the state could wind up on the wrong end of a disability discrimination suit. And there is not a lot of time left for the state to solve this problem.

We reached out to Boockvar's media relations team, and Deputy Secretary for Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks, for comment about this yesterday and noted we intended to file a story about this today at 5pm. As of publication, although they have had more than 24 hours to reply to our email, they have not done so.

We will update this post if and when they do.

Online voting, as recommended by the American Council of the Blind, raises some security concerns depending on how it operates - but a lot of these seem to be the focus of attention for groups who bought into narratives about 12,000 votes in Michigan having been switched by a few Russian propagandist Facebook memes and may be vastly overstated.

One purveyor of the technology has for years and apparently without incident supplied electronic ballots to members of the military serving overseas.

In addition, that vendor, Democracy Live, recently underwent an independent third party audit in which representatives of the company say hackers were unable to compromise its system, which uses the same cloud capability as the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency.

It is not known whether other vendors have undergone similar security audits.

Among other states, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington State (or counties within it) intend to allow online voting for the disabled this year due to the extraordinary circumstances presented by COVID-19.

One advantage to them doing so, said a proponent of online voting, is that disabled voters are disproportionately older and older voters vote at a higher and more consistent rate than younger voters. So, the proponent argues, these states' election authorities may be showing themselves to be the most responsive to the most reliable voters.

That may be an extra liability for election officials or their bosses who do not make it available as requested by the American Council for the Blind, as it could damage their standing with voters directly and political parties who rely on these most bankable voters to win elections.

"Risk is not binary," the proponent added.

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