San Francisco, Oct. 16 – In a major victory for voters with disabilities who are blind and visually impaired, a federal court ruled today that Alameda County must ensure that blind and visually impaired voters are able to vote privately and independently during elections. The secret ballot is one of the most fundamental and cherished American rights, yet Alameda County argued that blind and visually impaired voters do not have a right to a private and independent vote.
Rejecting this argument, Magistrate Judge Spero issued a groundbreaking decision that will help allow voters with disabilities to fully participate in the electoral process. The ruling is expected to have national implications. Read the court's decision at www.dralegal.org.
Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center with offices in California and New York City, which specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities. The suit, which seeks no damages, was filed on July 25, 2013, the day before the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiffs, California Council of the Blind (CCB) and five blind individuals, filed the action after blind voters in Alameda County encountered numerous problems voting with the audio and tactile features of the county's accessible voting machines during the November 2012 general election. When functioning properly, these machines read the on-screen ballot information aloud via headphones, and allow blind voters to independently input ballot choices using tactile controls. As a result of the malfunctioning machines, blind voters were forced to dictate their votes to others instead of voting independently.
The court's ruling recognizes that, in this day and age, the widespread availability of technology that allows visually impaired voters to vote privately and independently makes it unacceptable for public entities to deny voters with disabilities the benefits of their voting programs that non-disabled voters have taken for granted for decades. As Judge Spero noted in his order, "Requiring blind and visually impaired individuals to vote with the assistance of a third party, if they are to vote at all, at best provides these individuals with an inferior voting experience – not equal to that afforded others." Donna Pomerantz, president of CCB, said, "For all of us here in the United States who are blind and visually impaired, it is imperative that we have full and equal access to the same benefits and services available to sighted people, including the fundamental right to exercise our vote privately and independently. It's imperative. Since the technology already exists to make this a reality for all of us, there is no reason why we should not have this right."