Settlement reached in California voting case

Senior man using headphones and voting on an accessible voting machine.

Alameda County will take new steps to ensure voters who are blind or visually impaired are able to vote in upcoming elections, according to a new settlement (PDF format) filed in federal court on May 22.

“The right to cast a secret ballot is one of the most sacred and important rights we have as American citizens,” said Jeff Thom, president of the California Council of the Blind, in a news release. “This settlement greatly enhances the ability of Alameda County voters who are blind or have low vision to exercise their right to vote privately and independently.”

During the 2012 General Election, voters with visual disabilities throughout the County, which includes Oakland, had difficulty using the county’s voting machines. This occurred even though the voting machines were equipped with technology that reads the ballot text to voters through headphones, thus allowing them to cast their votes without the need of the traditional, written, ballot.

The CCB and five other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in July 2013, accusing the County of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and applicable California laws. Disability Rights Advocates represented the plaintiffs.

The settlement requires the County to test the voting machines prior to each election. Poll workers must receive training to operate the machines and the County will create an equipment technical hotline.

A task force will also be created to oversee the settlement’s implementation. The County will also provide demonstrations to disability advocacy groups prior to the elections and provide information on how to use the machines on the Registrar of Voters website.

“This settlement will ensure that voters who are blind have the same type of voter experience as sighted voters have had for decades,” DRA Senior Staff Attorney Christine Chuang said in the news release. “This settlement can serve as a model for counties across the country in ensuring the right to a secret ballot for voters who are blind.”