Summary of consent decree in Powell v. Benson case

On May 19, 2020, the Michigan Department of State entered into a consent decree in the case Powell v. Benson (Case: 20-11023 (ED Mich)) to implement a Remote Accessible Vote-By-Mail (“RAVBM”) system to allow voters with print disabilities to vote absentee privately and independently in time for the August 4, 2020 election. On July 13, 2020, Judge Drain of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued an implementation order.

The terms and conditions to the Consent Decree and Implementation Order include the following:

I.    Definitions:

Print Disabilities: disabilities that interfere with the effective reading, writing, or use of printed material. This definition includes persons who are visually impaired, those with learning disabilities, as well those with a physical disability that interferes with holding and manipulating paper or a pen or pencil.

RAVBM: Remote Accessible Vote-By-Mail

II.    ACCESSIBILITY PROVISIONS FOR AUGUST 4, 2020 PRIMARY ELECTION

Voters with print disabilities must have access to an accessible electronic absentee ballot application on the Department’s website, which can also be submitted electronically.

III.    MODIFY ONLINE ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUEST

The Department is required to do the following:

a.    Allow for a request for an accessible absentee ballot to be sent directly to a local clerk’s office

b.    Allow voters to check a box to both request an accessible AV ballot and make a declaration regarding their disability that is required on the Accessible AV ballot application.

IV.    MONITOR LOCAL ELECTION OFFICIALS

In its supervisory capacity, the Department is required to ensure accessible AV ballot requests, whether received through the Accessible AV Request system or through the Online AV Request system, are processed in accordance to the Court’s guidelines.

The Department will also continue the procedure utilized in the May 5, 2020 election to provide assistance to voters with print disabilities seeking to vote in person by absentee ballot.

V.    RAVBM OPERATIONAL FOR NOVEMBER 2020 ELECTION

The Request for Proposals must ensure that a RAVBM is available for absentee voting by voters with print disabilities at the same time (at least 40 days prior to the election) that absentee voting is made available to other voters for the November 3, 2020 election.

VI.    COMMUNICATION WITH PLAINTIFFS AND COURT

The Department will notify the Plaintiffs and the Court upon selection of a vendor for the RAVBM. The Department will also provide a weekly update to the Plaintiffs on its progress in carrying out the Implementation Order and the Consent Decree.

VII.    ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FROM CONSENT DECREE

Vote in Polling Places. The Department will ensure that persons who desire to vote in person have an equal opportunity to do so privately and independently at their designated local polling location via an accessible voting machine.

Vote by Mail. The Department will ensure that persons who desire to vote by mail have an equal opportunity to do so privately and independently as all other persons, including but not limited to:

a.    Providing a means to electronically request an accessible absentee ballot and certify that they are a voter with disabilities.

b.    Providing a means to place a voter with disabilities on a permanent Accessible AV List.

c.    Notifying the public of the accessible request system and RAVBM when it is available.

d.    Provide training to all local and county election officials regarding the accessible request and RAVBM in the same manner as all other election trainings.

e.    Provide training to local or county elections to send voters with disabilities electronic ballots that can be marked using RAVBM, with appropriate instructions

f.    Provide training to local election officials on how to accept and tabulate all ballots completed by the RAVBM that are timely received.

VIII.    REPORTING

Within 90 days after the November 3, 2020 Election, Defendants will provide Plaintiffs a report for the preceding Election containing the following information:

a. The number of individuals with disabilities who requested an accessible ballot;

b. The number of individuals who accessed the RAVBM; and

c. Descriptions of any complaints or feedback received from voters with disabilities regarding attempts to use or use of the RAVBM and descriptions of how any complaints were resolved