Blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice turned away by clerk’s office while trying to get absentee ballot

'They didn’t have any idea what the protocol was,' Justice Richard Bernstein said

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. – A Michigan Supreme Court Justice tried to get his absentee ballot in Birmingham this week and get assistance filling it out, but things didn’t go smoothly.

Justice Richard Bernstein is the first blind justice, elected by voters statewide, to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Bernstein was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November 2014. He began his 8-year term in January 2015.

Bernstein was turned away because workers in the clerk’s office didn’t know how to get him his absentee ballot.

“I think what I experienced was the fact they didn’t have any idea what the protocol was,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein has nothing bad to say about the workers in the clerk’s office. He said they simply didn’t know what to do.

WATCH: Interview with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein

In the last two months, advocates for the blind have sued the Michigan Secretary of State in federal court, insisting the office provide online access for the blind. Temporary online access was available in time for the May election.

Now, with absentee ballot applications going out to all Michigan voters with the option to get it verified online, there is not an option for a blind.

READ: Michigan Department of State launches online absentee voter application

“You go online today and there is no choice to get an absentee ballot,” attorney Jason Turkish said. “If you’re able-bodied, you have no problem at all. If you’re disabled, or blind, and you want to get an accessible ballot the sign says, ‘Come back later.' But you can’t read the sign. That’s a problem.”

Fact-check: Michigan is not sending absentee ballots to every registered voter

Local 4 reached out to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office and they said online access is coming, but no word on when it will be available.

Bernstein, for his part, has no ill will.

“I think the thing that I’m really hoping for is, I would really like the opportunity to vote,” Bernstein said.

READ: What Michigan’s Secretary of State is doing to make sure elections run smoothly

Update June 26, 2020: Michigan Secretary of State launches temporary online fix for the blind so they can get their absentee ballot and vote online in August.

About the Authors: