Hindel v. Husted, No. 17-3207 (6th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs claimed Ohio’s paper-ballot absentee voter system discriminated against the blind, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101. In Ohio, blind voters must seek the aid of a sighted person to vote absentee, depriving them of the ability to vote anonymously. Plaintiffs proposed that the state provide an online absentee ballot in lieu of a paper one, and adopt online ballot marking tools used in other states for blind voters. The state argued that adoption of plaintiffs’ proposal would violate state law, given Ohio’s certification requirements for voting equipment, and would force through untested and uncertified voting tools—which are neither appropriate nor necessary auxiliary aids under the ADA—and would fundamentally alter Ohio election law. The district court granted the state judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the district court based its ruling on defendant’s mere allegation of the “fundamental alteration” affirmative defense under the ADA, without any evidentiary support. The state had the burden of production and persuasion to prove that the proposed accommodation—the ballot marking tools and electronic ballots—would fundamentally alter Ohio’s election system by not “correctly, accurately, and continuously register[ing] and record[ing] every vote cast.” A state procedural requirement may not excuse a substantive ADA violation.