There are always extenuating circumstances, and this is completely unfair by all the US government is supposed to stand for.
Pummeled first by a bicycle on a New York City sidewalk and then by Hurricane Sandy, blind Oakland County attorney Richard Bernstein says he’s determined to maintain his record of never missing a chance to vote.
But Michigan Secretary of State officials say Bernstein is out of luck for Tuesday’s election after Sandy delayed delivery of his absentee ballot to a New York hotel, where he is recuperating from the smashed pelvis he suffered in the August accident.
Bernstein spent nearly 10 weeks in Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan as a result of his injuries before moving to the hotel Oct. 26 to continue his rehabilitation as an outpatient.
He says he applied for his absentee ballot the same day he got a fixed address, and Birmingham City Clerk Laura Broski said today her office mailed the ballot to his hotel Oct. 30.
That’s the day after the huge storm struck the east coast, flooding and knocking out power to many areas of New York.
Bernstein’s ballot still hadn’t arrived this morning and when he checks with the post office, they tell him they don’t even have electricity.
He said he started calling the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office last week and they told him there is nothing they can do.
“They’re basically saying I don’t get to vote,” Bernstein said. “I don’t think that’s really fair.”
Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said: “State law doesn’t provide any options here. The absentee ballot needs to be returned by mail by 8 p.m. tomorrow.”
Bernstein, legally blind since birth, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2010 and is known for his pro bono representation of clients in disability rights cases. The University of Michigan, Northwest Airlines (now Delta), and the state of Michigan are among the defendants he has sued.
At 38, he’s run 17 marathons and completed one Iron Man competition. On Aug. 13, he was walking in Central Park to train for his 18th marathon when he was struck from behind by a fast-moving cyclist.
The impact shattered his hip and his pelvis and the socket that connects the two.
Despite the fact his blindness severely limits his ability to use pain medication or normal recuperative tools such as walkers, Bernstein said today he is learning to walk again.
He said he’s never missed an election since he turned 18, despite the fact voting isn’t easy for blind people.
There are no braille ballots in Michigan. Bernstein visits the local clerk’s office where someone reads him the ballot and records his choices. That means the secret ballot other voters take for granted is compromised, but that hasn’t been a major concern of his.
He said it’s not clear to him why Michigan won’t allow absentee ballots to be downloaded off the Internet.
For this time, he thinks state officials should allow him to cast a provisional ballot — either by phone or by express delivery — which others could challenge if they wish.
Woodhams noted absentee ballots have been available since Sept. 22. “We encourage people to apply for an absentee ballot as soon as they know they won’t be able to vote in person on Election Day.”
But Bernstein said he had no way of knowing how long he would be in the hospital and wanted a fixed address before he applied. He noted his application was received well in advance of Saturday’s deadline.