Activists Challenge Voting Methods in Virginia, Maine in Federal Court

July 30, 2020 Updated: July 30, 2020

Lawsuits challenging voting practices in the battleground states of Virginia and Maine they claim are unfair were filed in federal courts over the past week as the Nov. 3 presidential election draws nearer.

In the 2016 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton won 49.7 percent of the votes in Virginia, compared to 44.4 percent by President Donald Trump. Clinton was awarded all 13 of Virginia’s votes in the Electoral College under that state’s winner-take-all system, out of the 270 needed nationwide to elect the president.

In Maine, Clinton won 47.8 percent of the votes, besting the 44.9 percent won by Trump. Under Maine’s electoral vote allocation system, Clinton received 3 of the 4 electoral votes and Trump received the other.

The Virginia lawsuit, Gary v. Virginia Department of Elections, was brought by the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and the American Council of the Blind of Virginia. The groups claim that because their members’ disabilities prevent them from independently marking a paper ballot, the state is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are disappointed that the Virginia Department of Elections has not been forward in articulating a plan that would provide for a private, safe and independent ballot for voters with disabilities,” Sam Joehl, president of the American Council of the Blind of Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The right to cast an unimpeded and private vote is a cornerstone of our democracy,” the petition filed in court states.

That right “is severely compromised” for voters who are blind, partially blind, or lack the manual dexterity required “to vote absentee, as other Virginia voters can.”

Because absentee ballots are provided in hard-copy form and must be completed manually, some disabled people are unable “to cast their ballot privately and independently,” and must reveal their choices to another person and “hope that person correctly records their vote.”

Those with disabilities must “choose between their health and their right to vote because they are forced to go to their local electoral board or polling place to privately and independently mark their ballots.”

Technology exists that could remedy the situation, the petition states.

“Remote accessible vote-by-mail (“RAVBM”) tools are readily available to make Virginia’s absentee ballots accessible. … [The state] secured a RAVBM system but refuse[s] to make it available to voters with print disabilities. Many other states have implemented this technology and are providing accessible electronic ballots.”

The Virginia Department of Elections didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

In the Maine litigation, ranked-choice voting opponents are trying to overturn that voting system in the state, after state Republicans failed to get a referendum question aimed at repeal on the ballot.

The lawsuit, known as Hagopian v. Dunlap, filed in the U.S. District Court in Maine, claims that Maine’s adoption of ranked-choice voting (RCV), which has been controversial from its inception in 2017, denies “the constitutional rights of Mainers.” (pdf)

Maine is the first and only state to adopt RCV, which has “disenfranchised a substantial number of voters” and will do so again in November, “if this Court does not intervene.”

The purpose of RCV is to make sure a winner is selected who enjoys majority popular support without having to conduct an additional runoff election as some states do when the first-place candidate fails to exceed the 50 percent mark in balloting.

Under RCV, voters are asked to rank candidates on the ballot from first to last. If no candidate achieves a clear majority, additional rounds take place in which last-place finishers are removed from contention and those voters’ second choices are then reallocated to the remaining field.

But the four citizen plaintiffs claim the RCV system only works if voters complete the full ballot, and that municipalities with large elderly populations and residents without college degrees are more likely to not complete the whole ballot.

Meanwhile, a Kansas state judge dismissed a Democratic lawsuit aimed to force the Republican secretary of state, Scott Schwab, to allow voters to cast ballots from any polling station within their home county.

“Major changes to the administration of our elections should not be rushed out of political impulse or expediency,” Schwab said in a statement.