A N A C T
RELATING TO ELECTIONS -- BALLOTS FOR VOTERS WHO ARE BLIND, VISUALLY IMPAIRED OR DISABLED
It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:
SECTION 1. Chapter 17-19 of the General Laws entitled "Conduct of Election and Voting Equipment, and Supplies" is hereby amended by adding thereto the following section:
17-19-8.1. Ballots for voters who are blind, visually impaired or disabled. -- (a) Any voter who is blind or visually impaired or disabled is eligible to request a special ballot for voting by mail ballot or in person at the polls on election day. Special ballots are available in Braille or tactile, or other accessible format.
(b) Requests must be made in writing to the local board of canvassers where the person is registered to vote at least forty-five (45) days before the election for which the voter is requesting the special ballot. In addition, the request will be valid for all elections held during the calendar year in which the request was received and in which the voter is eligible to participate.
(c) The office of the secretary of state shall prepare and provide the appropriate form which shall be available at local boards and upon request from the office of the secretary of state. The voter may also choose to submit his or her request in writing without using the form provided so long as the communication contains all of the required information. The request shall include the following information:
(1) the name and registered address of the voter;
(2) a day time telephone number;
(3) an indication of whether this request is for the entire calendar year or only for the next upcoming election;
(4) the voter's political party affiliation if the request for special ballot is also for primaries;
(5) a statement indicating whether the person will be voting at the polls on election day or voting by mail ballot. Persons indicating that they will be casting their vote by mail ballot must also file the appropriate mail ballot applications as required by chapter 17-20; and
(6) indicate the special ballot format.
(d) All requests received by local boards must be processed and forwarded to the office of the secretary of state within twenty-four (24) hours of receipt. The secretary of state shall maintain a list of all persons requesting special Braille or tactile, or other accessible format ballots and must forward a copy of same to the state board of elections at least eighteen (18) days before the date of any election.
(e) The state board of elections may adopt rules and regulations for the procedure for the casting and the tabulation of Braille, tactile, or other accessible format ballot voted on election day at the polls. The state board may also adopt rules and regulations for the procedure for the manual reproduction of voted ballots, when necessary, and the tabulation of Braille and tactile mail ballots or other accessible format ballots.
(f) The office of the secretary of state shall be responsible for the preparation and distribution of special Braille, tactile, or other accessible format ballots. Whenever possible, the secretary of state shall prepare the Braille, tactile, or other accessible format ballot so that the voted ballot can be read by the tabulation equipment rather than being manually reproduced by election officials onto a machine readable ballot.
(g) The office of the secretary of state may adopt rules and regulations setting forth the procedure for the preparations and distribution of the Braille, tactile, or other accessible format ballots.
(h) The office of the secretary of state shall prepare and publish a guide describing the types of ballots available and the manner in which each ballot can be voted. This guide shall be revised whenever the types of ballots available are updated. This guide shall be available in print, in Braille, in audio or other accessible formats.
(i) The office of the secretary of state shall establish a special Braille and tactile ballot pilot program for the September primary and November general election in 2000, for voters who are blind or visually impaired. The office of the secretary of state shall expand the special ballot service to other voters with disabilities, as feasible, as determined by the secretary of state, starting in 2001, and incorporate other accessible formats as technology and resources allow.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect for all elections held after September 1, 2000.