Voting Access Expanded for the Blind

For the first time, a federal court has held the Americans with Disabilities Act requires accessible voting machines for the blind in an Alameda County case brought by five blind voters.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero ruled Wednesday refused to dismiss the ADA claim saying visually impaired voters have a right to cast ballots privately and independently, without the aid of a poll worker or relative.

Although AlamedaCounty provides one machine at each polling place that has an audio capability and a tactile ballot for the blind, many times poll workers were not trained to operate them and could not get them to work.

Five blind voters sued earlier this year saying they were forced to rely on help from poll workers to cast ballots, depriving them of the ability to vote in secret.  They sued arguing AlamedaCounty failed to ensure that voting machines accessible to the blind and visually impaired could be activated and operated by poll workers.

Spero noted that no other court has previously held that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act require provision of accessible voting machines.  In fact, his ruling runs counter to an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a Florida case that held us of an assistant for blind voters was sufficient.

“This court concludes that voting privately and independently is one of the central features of voting which must be accorded so long as the modification is not an undue burden or a fundamental alteration of the service,” Spero wrote.

He did agree to dismiss the claim of violation of California state election law.

Case:  Calif. Council of the Blind v. County of Alameda, No. 13-cv-3443JCS


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