California Council of the Blind (CCB) et al. v. County of Alameda et al.
Voting privately and independently is one of the most fundamental and cherished American rights.
In July 2013, DRA filed a lawsuit against the County of Alameda challenging discrimination faced by voters with disabilities who are denied an equal opportunity to vote on Election Day. The suit was brought by California Council of the Blind and five blind registered voters in the County of Alameda.
Blind voters in Alameda County encountered problems with the audio and tactile features of voting machines during the November 2012 General Election. After poll workers could not fix these problems, blind voters were forced to dictate their votes to others instead of voting independently. Some of the voters who faced these barriers traveled to alternate poll-sites. After experiencing similar problems with voting machines at alternate sites, they were also forced to share their ballot selections with others.
On October 16, 2013, a federal court ruled that Alameda County must ensure that blind and visually impaired voters are able to vote privately and independently during elections, the first such finding in the country. The secret ballot is one of the most fundamental and cherished American rights, and yet Alameda County had 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.
In May 2015, the parties reached a settlement agreement that will ensure that blind and visually impaired voters are able to cast a secret ballot. Among other things, under the agreement, Alameda County will implement revised policies and procedures relating to accessible voting machines, which include testing the functionality of the machines before every Election, comprehensive hands-on training of poll workers regarding the set up of the machines, a dedicated equipment technical hotline that will concentrate solely on equipment issues, and the creation of a Task Force to review and make recommendations regarding training and materials relating to accessible voting machines.
Jeff Thom, President of CCB, said, “The right to cast a secret ballot is one of the most sacred and important rights we have as American citizens. 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.”