California Council of the Blind v. Weber

Scroll to case documents Date Filed: 03/08/2024 Status:

In March 2024, Disability Rights Advocates and a coalition of disability organizations and California voters with disabilities filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Norther District of California against the California Secretary of State to (SOS) to challenge discrimination in the state’s vote-by-mail program. Later in March 2024, DRA filed a motion for a preliminary injunction requiring the SOS to implement accessible electronic mechanisms for voters with print disabilities to return their vote-by-mail ballots privately and independently by the November election.

California’s paper-based methods for returning vote-by-mail ballots impose significant and unlawful barriers for blind voters and others whose print disabilities prevent them from independently reading, marking, or handling paper documents, forcing them to rely on assistance from others and thus denying them their fundamental right to vote privately and independently.

This lawsuit aims to ensure that California’s vote-by-mail program is fully accessible for Californians with print disabilities for the upcoming 2024 elections and all future elections. Plaintiffs do not seek money damages.

The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights California, and Brown, Goldstein & Levy on behalf of the California Council of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of California, and individual Plaintiffs Christopher Gray, Russell Rawlings, and Vita Zavoli.

California voters with print disabilities, like other U.S. citizens across the country, are proud to exercise the duty and right to vote for their elected representatives, and for or against policies that impact their lives. In recent elections, record numbers of California voters have cast their ballots by mail. As part of an effort to increase voting access, the ability to vote by mail is now enshrined as a permanent feature of the state’s electoral system. But while many voters have benefitted from California’s vote-by-mail program, its continued reliance on paper-based ballot return mechanisms excludes and discriminates against people with print disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to read or handle print materials, including voters who are blind and voters who have limited manual dexterity from causes including cerebral palsy, stroke, and spinal cord injuries.

Although California voters with print disabilities may receive and mark their ballots electronically on their own devices, there is no option to return their ballots electronically: voters must print their ballot selections, place that printout in a government-issued paper ballot return envelope, sign and seal the envelope, and then arrange for the return of the paper ballot through one of three inaccessible paper-based means. These paper-based mechanisms force voters with print disabilities to rely on assistants without print disabilities to handle their marked ballot, thereby sacrificing the secrecy of their vote. In contrast, California’s overseas and military voters have the option to return their ballots electronically by fax. DRA’s request for a preliminary injunction asks that the SOS extend that option to voters with print disabilities for the upcoming election so that they may return their ballots accessibly by fax.

The California Secretary of State can make the vote-by-mail program accessible to voters with print disabilities but has yet to do so. The addition of a readily available electronic ballot-return option would remedy the problem, as it would allow voters with print disabilities to use their own devices not only to mark their ballots, but also to review and submit them. At least 12 other states already offer some form of electronic return for voters with disabilities.

Disability: , Case Area: