San Francisco – December 17, 2015 – Lawyers for the California Council of the Blind, an association of blind and visually impaired Californians, and two individual plaintiffs have filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California against the County of San Mateo and the State of California challenging the unlawful and discriminatory exclusion of blind and visually impaired voters from the County of San Mateo’s absentee voting program. View the complaint here: California Council of the Blind v. County of San Mateo
Many other states and jurisdictions across the country already offer blind and visually impaired voters a method to vote absentee privately and independently. However, according to the complaint, “despite the availability of reliable and secure technologies that would enable blind and visually impaired voters to cast absentee ballots in a private and independent manner, the County has failed to provide any alternative to paper ballots for absentee voting. As a result, blind and visually impaired voters must rely on the assistance of others to read and mark their absentee ballots, thereby sacrificing the confidentiality of their vote, or forego their right to vote by absentee ballot altogether.”
“In 2014, San Mateo County actually made it harder for blind and visually impaired individuals to vote,” says Lisa Ells, a partner at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld and an attorney for the plaintiffs. Voting rights attorney and co-counsel Robert Rubin added: “There are readily available solutions that would allow these citizens to privately and independently read and mark absentee ballots. The County’s failure to adopt them discriminates against blind voters in a manner that parallels voting procedures that exclude other minority groups.”
Plaintiff James Gump, who lives in Menlo Park, is legally blind and registered to vote in San Mateo County. “As a busy professional, it’s inconvenient for me to travel to a poll site on election day, and I’d like to enjoy the same convenience and flexibility that sighted absentee voters receive,” says Mr. Gump. “The only way that I can vote absentee right now is for someone else to read and fill out the ballot for me, but I should not need to give up my right to a secret ballot to vote absentee.”
Eugene Lozano, First Vice President of the California Council of the Blind, said, “It’s alarming that twenty-five years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, blind voters must still fight for equal access to their basic and fundamental right to vote.”
Plaintiffs are asking for an order and judgment enjoining Defendants from violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and California Government Code section 11135, and requiring Defendants to take all steps necessary to ensure that blind and visually impaired voters have access to a method to read and mark absentee ballots privately and independently in San Mateo County.
The case is California Council of the Blind v. County of San Mateo, Case No. 3:15-cv-5784 (U.S. District Court, N.D. Cal.), and has been assigned to the Honorable Donna M. Ryu. Copies of the complaint are available online at www.rbgg.com.
# # #
Lisa Ells, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, (415) 433-6830, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Rubin, Law Offices of Robert Rubin, (415) 624-8454, email@example.com
Selected Media Coverage
Lawsuit: San Mateo County absentee voting system excludes blind voters, San Jose Mercury News, December 17, 2015
Blind Bay Area voters object to paper ballots, Courthouse News Service, December 18, 2015
Lawsuit: Blind suffered election discrimination: Officials claim county committed to addressing privacy issue, San Mateo Daily Journal, December 21, 2015