Kristin Fleschner of Terre Haute was eager to vote in the November general election.
But her voting experience has prompted her to join a federal lawsuit that contends the state of Indiana discriminates against voters who are blind or have low vision by not offering necessary accommodations.
The Harvard Law School graduate is blind and also an organ transplant recipient, which makes her more vulnerable to complications if she contracted COVID. As a result, she chose not to go to a polling site because of the health risks involved.
But when she sought an absentee ballot, she was told the only way for her to vote was to have a two-member traveling board come to her house. Viewing it as the safest option, that is how she voted.
But Fleschner and the other lawsuit plaintiffs argue that they and other Hoosier voters who are blind or have low vision could easily vote privately and independently at home using electronic tools. Instead, they were being forced to choose between giving up their right to vote privately and independently, as well as risk exposing themselves to COVID-19, or not voting at all.
In the lawsuit filed against the Indiana Election Commission and the Indiana Secretary of State, Fleschner and other plaintiffs allege the state’s voting system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Valerie Warycha, communications director for the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, said Friday, “We don’t comment on pending litigation.”
On her website blog, Fleschner wrote, “I am proud to be a part of a lawsuit that was filed today [Thursday] to ensure that blind people are provided with the accommodations they need to vote. I love Indiana and it has been my home for the majority of my life. It was my home before I lost my sight and it is my home now, after losing my sight.”
Other plaintiffs are Rita Kersh of Lawrence County and Wanda Tackett of Vanderburgh County; they are joined by the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission and American Council of the Blind of Indiana.
In the lawsuit filed in the federal court’s Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, the plaintiffs seek only injunctive relief, not monetary damages.
“Indiana can do better, and it has to, because it’s the law,” Fleschner wrote on her blog. “I, and thousands of others, are looking forward to a more accessible vote in our next election.”
Fleschner, 38, is a 2000 graduate of Terre Haute North Vigo High School who went on to graduate from Vanderbilt University and Harvard Law School. She previously worked for the federal government.
Now residing in Terre Haute, she is an attorney, advocate and speaker. She says she is working on a variety of issues, including continuing her work on national security issues and advocating on a number of social justice issues.
Fleschner said she chose to be part of the lawsuit because “I felt the responsibility to change our system and also make others aware of how marginalized persons don’t have the same privileges as the rest of society.”
She has a unique experience in that she had voted in Indiana before she became blind, both in-person and absentee. “It didn’t occur to me that this would be a problem in Indiana,” she said in an email.
Civic engagement has always been important to her, and she learned about the restrictions in Indiana law when she was volunteering as a lawyer on voter protection issues in the recent election. “I received training about absentee voting in Indiana and this was the first time I learned of the traveling board,” she said.
The lawsuit says Indiana has one of the most restrictive absentee voting systems in the country for blind voters because it only permits them to vote at home by appointment with a “traveling board” of elections officials.
The goal of the lawsuit, Fleschner said, is for Indiana to eliminate the traveling board and institute an online voting option for those that qualify.
Federal law already requires states email ballots to military and overseas voters. “I formerly worked for the federal government and traveled frequently overseas and was aware of this system,” she said. “It is disheartening to know that there are ways I could vote privately and independently from outside the United States, but do not have that option when I live in Indiana.”
The plaintiffs say the state has known for some time of the problem but failed to address it. They say successful, accessible absentee voting programs are currently being used by other states. They also say Indiana’s existing accessible military and overseas voting options could be expanded to include voters who are blind or have low vision.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Indiana Disability Rights and Disability Rights Advocates.
Those interested in following the progress of the lawsuit can sign up for Fleschner’s blog updates on her website at kristinfleschner.com.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at email@example.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.
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