San Francisco – March 20, 2018 – The California Council of the Blind, an association of blind and visually impaired Californians, and two individual plaintiffs announced the final settlement of their federal lawsuit against the County of San Mateo and the State of California challenging the unlawful and discriminatory exclusion of blind and low vision voters from the County of San Mateo’s absentee voting program. A copy of the settlement agreement is available here: CCB v San Mateo Settlement Agreement
As a result of the groundbreaking legal action culminating in this final settlement, blind and low vision voters in San Mateo County were able to cast their absentee ballots independently in time for the November 2017 election. “The California Council of the Blind is very pleased to bring the lawsuit to such a successful conclusion,” said Judy Wilkinson, President of the California Council of the Blind. “This settlement marks a major milestone in our efforts to provide blind and low-vision voters with equal access to absentee voting in California.”
“San Mateo’s implementation of the accessible absentee voting tools has been fast, inexpensive, and smooth,” added plaintiffs’ lead counsel Lisa Ells of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld. “We look forward to the other counties following suit so that all California voters with vision impairments can take advantage of the convenience of absentee voting without sacrificing their right to vote privately and independently.”
In September 2016, the parties had stipulated to and the Court ordered a framework for certifying and implementing an accessible absentee voting system in San Mateo County. AB 2252, which for the first time established processes and procedures for the review and certification of a Remote Accessible Vote by Mail System (“RAVBM System”) for voters with disabilities, had been signed into law on July 22, 2016, paving the way for the Court’s order.
RAVBM systems allow blind voters and voters with other print disabilities to vote absentee independently. Voters can download their ballots onto a computer equipped with their preferred assistive technology, fill out the ballots, and print and mail their completed voting records to elections officials just as other voters would return traditional absentee ballots. Many other states and jurisdictions across the country already offer blind and low vision voters a method to vote absentee privately and independently.
On October 12, 2017 the California Secretary of State certified two accessible absentee voting systems, the Five Cedars Alternate Format Ballot and the Democracy Live Secure Select system for use in California paving the way for San Mateo County to announce on October 25, 2017 that it had implemented the Democracy Live Secure Select System for disabled and low vision voters to use in time for the November 2017 election and all future elections. In doing so, San Mateo became the first county in California to deploy such a system.
The final settlement, which is in effect until December 31, 2020, requires the County to take a variety of steps to ensure that its absentee voting program is fully accessible to blind and low vision voters, including:
- Offering voters with disabilities an opportunity to vote using an accessible absentee voting system in all elections;
- Equipping vote centers with computers with screen access software so that blind and low-vision voters who do not otherwise have access to the needed technology can vote using the accessible absentee voting system;
- Training relevant County staff on operation of the County’s accessible absentee voting system and to answer voters’ questions about the system;
- Developing protocols for notifying the public about accessible absentee voting system outages and a plan to promptly remedy such outages;
- Adopting a comprehensive plan to publicize the County’s accessible absentee voting system to the disability community;
- Offering resources to help educate the public about how to vote using the County’s accessible absentee voting system and a phone line that the public can call for assistance troubleshooting any technical difficulties that they encounter with the system;
- Collecting data regarding use of the County’s accessible absentee voting system and periodically reporting this data to Plaintiffs; and
- Offering relevant forms in a format so that blind and low-vision voters using screen-access software can complete them independently.
San Mateo further agreed to pay plaintiffs $810,325 in legal fees as part of the settlement.
The State of California has also agreed to continue to include members of the disability community in the testing of new accessible absentee voting systems and new versions of existing systems to ensure that any new technology is readily accessible to people with disabilities, and to pay plaintiffs $354,175 in legal fees.
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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
Judy Wilkinson, President, California Council of the Blind, (510) 388-5079