Lawyers for the California Council of the Blind and two individual plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction in a federal court case that challenges the unlawful and discriminatory exclusion of blind and visually impaired voters from the County of San Mateo’s absentee voting program.

According to the motion: “The relief that Plaintiffs seek is a preliminary injunction requiring Defendants to make an accessible electronic ballot marking tool available that enables Plaintiffs to vote privately and independently with the same convenience and flexibility afforded to non-disabled absentee voters by the date the County sends absentee ballots to voters for the November 2016 election.”

“Plaintiffs have identified simple, secure, and affordable technology that would allow blind voters to read and mark their absentee ballots privately and independently just as non-disabled voters do,” says attorney Michael Nunez of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld.  “We have identified several such electronic tools in use in other states – one of them is open source and free of charge – that could be readily implemented by the County.”

Nunez notes that California law currently prohibits the use of voting software that connects to the Internet, which has presented an obstacle to the adoption of a remote electronic ballot marking tool throughout the state.  Plaintiffs argue, however, that since the County is in violation of federal law, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, it is within the court’s power to order the County to adopt the accessible technology in time for the November election.

“These electronic ballot marking tools are secure and have been used without incident in other states,” says Nunez.  “Adopting this technology would be a win for Plaintiffs and for the County. The closest option to absentee voting that the County offers is to require blind voters to make an appointment for a County employee to come to their homes during limited business hours with a large and bulky voting machine. This is a much less effective and very unsatisfactory solution for blind voters, especially those like our clients who are busy professionals, and the County alike.”

Plaintiff James Gump, who lives in Menlo Park, is legally blind and registered to vote in San Mateo County.  When Mr. Gump tried to access the County’s current system to vote remotely for June’s primary election, a comedy of errors ensued.  “I called and made an appointment to vote at a time when I could take off from work,” says Gump.  “Three county employees arrived and spent over an hour trying to get the machine to work.  It never did and I still haven’t been able to vote.  What a waste of time for me and for the county when cheap, easy-to-use electronic voting tools are ready and waiting.”

The case is California Council of the Blind v. County of San Mateo, Case No. 3:15-cv-05784-CRB (U.S. District Court, N.D. Cal.). 

See also the press release when the case was originally filed on December 17, 2015: Federal Lawsuit Challenges Discriminatory Exclusion of Blind Voters from San Mateo County Absentee Voting Program.