- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BALTIMORE (AP) - A federal lawsuit to require the state of Maryland to provide online absentee ballots designed to protect the privacy of blind and disabled voters went before a federal judge on Wednesday.

The ballot-marking system enables the blind to mark their voting selections on a computer. Then, they would print out their ballot as a bar code that could not be read by someone who mails the ballot in for them.

Attorneys for the American Federation of the Blind, which filed the lawsuit, are trying to persuade U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett to require Maryland to use the ballots in November’s election. Sixteen other states use the tool.

However, attorneys for the American Council of the Blind in Maryland argued in court against implementing the Web-based ballot-marking system, saying it is subject to fraud and computer hackers.

Jessica Weber, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in opening arguments that blind residents are now denied meaningful access to absentee ballots that can be mailed privately and independently. The ballot-marking system, she said, would make that possible. She contended the ability to cast a secret ballot is a right guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ken Capone, who has cerebral palsy that has left him unable to walk or speak, testified that he now needs people to vote for him. The new ballot-marking system would let him vote on his own, he said.

“It’s very important to me to vote privately and independently,” Capone said in testimony that was read in court by an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Robert Stern, an attorney for the American Council of the Blind of Maryland, said the system poses cybersecurity risks that could fundamentally alter how voting takes place in Maryland.

In July, the Maryland State Board of Elections voted 3-1 for the ballot-marking tool, but four votes were needed for approval of a new voting system.

The court case is schedule to continue in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday.

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