March 8, 2004
David Silver (LA) (213) 488-6161
Vince Wetzel (Sacto) (916) 325-1690
Read about the plaintiffs
SECRETARY OF STATE AND FOUR COUNTIES SUED FOR DENYING ACCESS TO VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES
Los Angeles, CA and Sacramento, CA -- March 8, 2004. National and state disability organizations, and several California voters with visual and manual impairments, filed suit today in Los Angeles federal court. The suit challenges violations of their voting rights at last week's state elections and in the upcoming November, 2004 federal elections. Individuals with vision and manual dexterity disabilities hadrecounted stories of having to ask strangers or their own young children to vote for them while poll workers and other voters looked on and listened.
According to the complaint, the Secretary of State has failed to require accessible voting machines in four of the state's most populous counties (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Santa Barbara). In fact, the suit contends, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has impeded implementation of accessible voting by imposing restrictions on the only accessible federally approved and state certified voting equipment available -- touchscreen, or direct recording electronic (DRE) machines.
The suit alleges that three counties (San Francisco, Sacramento and Santa Barbara) conducted elections on March 2 without any accessible voting machines. Los Angeles County had accessible touchscreen machines in only one location on election day and none at all in the county's other 4571 polling locations. These four counties plan to conduct elections in November, 2004 in the same way.
Touchscreen or direct recording electronic (DRE) machines are the only federally approved and state certified accessible machines. They offer auditory reading of ballots through headsets and a keypad to cast votes, thus allowing blind voters to vote independently and secretly. They also can also be equipped with other assistive devices to accommodate people whose manual disabilities make it difficult to hold a pen. The machines have been available since 1999 and were used in 14 other California counties on March 2. Each of the four defendant counties has replaced its voting machinery since 1999, but failed to buy accessible machines.
The Plaintiffs claim that the defendants' lack of accessible equipment violates the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
James Dickson, Vice President for Government Affairs of the plaintiff American Association of People with Disabilities charged, "With the new voting technology, there really is no excuse for imposing these extra burdens on people with disabilities. Federal law makes clear that this is illegal discrimination. It also denies us our fundamental right to vote."
Plaintiffs blame the Secretary of State for the counties' lack of accessibility. Some counties were planning to purchase accessible machines until the Secretary issued a Directive last November requiring the addition of voter verified paper audit trails (VVPAT) to the machines. Because no approved machines exist that provide VVPATs, the counties' plans were stopped and the March election went ahead without accessible equipment. The Secretary claimed security concerns justified his decision, even though a task force convened by his office stopped short of recommending VVPATs. The suit seeks to overturn that Directive. "The Secretary of State has chosen security at the expense of access. That choice is unnecessary and illegal. Security is little consolation to the voter who is not allowed to voteThe Secretary of State's decision is unjustified as county election officials that use touchscreen systems say they have security safeguards that make tampering improbable. Even California's Attorney General says that the Secretary's Directive is illegal," said co-counsel and disability specialist Eve Hill, Executive Director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights.
Disabled plaintiffs seek a court order requiring accessible voting machines in every polling location in time for the November, 2004 election. "Counties are required to make voting accessible to people with disabilities to the maximum extent feasible, and these four counties clearly can do more than they are planning to do. The Secretary of State needs to stop preventing them from doing it," said lead counsel John E. McDermott of Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Howrey attorneys recently won a similar case for the AAPD in Florida.
"Ultimately, this lawsuit is about doing the right thing and we hope that the Secretary and the four counties will realize that and make these machines a standard part of the voting process in California so that people with visual and manual impairments can vote independently, unassisted and secretly like all other citizens," said McDermott.
About the individual plaintiffs
Jim Troesh is an actor, writer, web and graphic designer, and public speaker living in Los Angeles, California. In more than 20 years as an entertainer, Jim has played Shakespeare, performed improv, and gained recognition with a recurring role on Michael Landon's "Highway to Heaven" as "Scotty," a quadriplegic lawyer. Jim became quadriplegic at 14 years old, but has never been deterred from pursuing, and achieving, his many personal goals.
Jim's goal as a public citizen is to have the same voting rights as his fellow non-disabled Californians. Having voted in every major election since he turned 18, Jim looks forward to engaging in the political process, especially going to his polling station in person on election day. Because Jim cannot use his arms, instead using a mouthstick or other writing implement he holds in his mouth, Jim has never been able to vote independently. Jim asks someone to go with him to the polls to cast his vote for him, but he has never been comfortable with the lack of secrecy. On March 2, 2004, Jim brought an assistant to his polling place and told her the numbers of the candidates he wanted to vote for, rather than their names, in an attempt to maintain some privacy. Still, Jim reports that poll workers and other voters could overhear his conversation, and could easily determine who he was voting for. "Voting in secret seems like a little thing, but its not. In other countries people get shot over who they voted for," Jim says, but here people take voting privacy for granted. Jim has joined other disabled Californians in suing the Secretary of State and Los Angeles County for failing to provide him with an accessible voting system. With a touch screen system, Jim could use his mouthstick to cast his vote in secret and without the intervention of a third party for the first time in his life. "I can use my mouthstick to play slot machines in Los Vegas, but in Los Angeles County I can't even vote!"
Deborah Miles makes her living as an ADA consultant and trainer in the Los Angeles area. Deborah has arthrogryposis, a condition that results is reduced or fixed mobility of many joints of the body. Deborah uses a wheelchair for mobility and cannot hold a pen in her hand, instead using her mouth to do so. Deborah is sometimes assisted by her young daughter, who has already learned a lot about the challenges her mother faces every day. On March 2, 2004, she learned another lesson about how her mother is treated because of her disability. Deborah and her daughter went to Willard Elementary School in Long Beach, California, to vote in the presidential primary election. Deborah thought she and her daughter might go into a voting booth together, where Deborah would tell her each person she wanted to vote for and her daughter would mark her ballot for her. But the voting booths were located in an area inaccessible with a wheelchair, so Deborah and her daughter had to sit at a table where poll workers were checking in other voters. Though trying to whisper her selections, "I was forced to vote out in the open for all poll workers and those who passed by to see who I was choosing," says Deborah. While her daughter may have gotten an early lesson in civics, Deborah feels it was at the cost of her own privacy, independence and dignity. She has joined the lawsuit against the Secretary of State and Los Angeles County in order to achieve voting independence and privacy for herself and other Californians with disabilities.
Jessie Lorenz, a Systems Change Coordinator for the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, spends much of her time at work lobbying California officials on behalf of disabled members of her community. Blind herself since birth, Jessie understands the importance of her work and the impact it can have on helping to improve peoples lives. As such, she has decided to dedicate her personal time to these efforts as well and, joined by fellow disabled California citizens, has sued the California Secretary of State and the County of San Francisco for failing to provide her with accessible voting systems. The present voting system used in San Francisco requires Jessie to seek the assistance of a third party to complete the ballot. Jessie seeks the assistance of the poll workers in her precinct to help her complete this task. Jessie has experienced an accessible voting system during a demonstration put on by the San Francisco Mayor's Disability Counsel. Jessie believes in these systems and looks forward to a day when these systems are not merely a demonstration but actually put to use in San Francisco, allowing her to cast her vote independently, and in secret from even the anonymous poll workers whom she is now forced to rely upon.
Paul Longmore is a Professor of History at San Francisco State University, a resident of San Francisco, a person with a disability, and a longtime disability rights activist. Paul Longmore is one of the leading scholars of disability studies and one of only a small but growing cadre of historians studying disability. At San Francisco State he also serves as Director of the Institute on Disability. Dr. Longmore is widely known in the disability community for his extensive publication and speaking on disability. In addition to early American history and disability history, he has taught courses in U.S. intellectual and cultural history and political theory. However, due to his physical disability Dr. Longmore is unable to vote without the assistance of poll workers based upon the voting systems used in San Francisco County.
Having raised three children of her own, Rhonda King is accustomed to the challenges that are present in life. However, in 1985 Rhonda faced an unexpected challenge when she was diagnosed with Stardardt Disease, which resulted in the deterioration of the nerve cells in her retina and the complete loss of her vision. As an independent woman the loss of her vision was very difficult. However, Rhonda overcame many of the difficulties presented to her and regained her independence. She learned to read Braille, is a full time student at Sacramento State University pursuing a degree in Governmental Affairs, has received numerous awards of academic distinction, and would like to pursue a career where she can influence governmental policies. Despite the independence that she has regained for herself, Rhonda is frustrated with the barriers that Sacramento County's voting systems place on her and the fact that she cannot vote without the assistance of third parties. Rhonda would like to regain her independence as a voter and be able to cast her vote in the November 2004 election in secret and without the assistance of others.
A quadriplegic as the result of a motorcycle accident when he was 17, Scott Taylor has not allowed his disability to stand in the way of success. Receiving bachelors degrees in accounting as well as finance, Scott has worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco and now works as an accountant in Sacramento where he presently resides. Despite his personal achievements the voting system presently utilized in Sacramento County creates a barrier to Scott exercising his right to vote. Scott would like to be able to cast vote without the assistance of others, a right afforded to all non-disabled citizens of Sacramento County.
Pamela Hill, a resident of Los Angeles, completely lost her vision in 1999 at age 41. Having been sighted most of her life, Ms. Hill has been forced to re-learn all of the skills she had learned as a sighted person. The most difficult challenge for her has been learning to interact with sighted individuals now that she is visually challenged. One thing that has come easy for Ms. Hill is her newfound advocacy skills for the blind and disabled communities. In furtherance of this advocacy Ms. Hill has decided to participate in a lawsuit against Los Angeles County to ensure that disabled individuals are afforded the same rights as non-disabled citizens. It is through this lawsuit that Ms. Hill hopes that she may be able to cast a vote independently, and without the assistance of a third party in the November, 2004 election.
Jeremy Johansen is a mechanical engineer and a graduate student in the School of Engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Mr. Johansen's research is on sensors and switches for earthquake protection of structures. Mr. Johansen lost his vision in 1989 and is now completely blind. A resident of Santa Barbara County since 1997, he has voted in every election held in the county including the recent March primary. Mr. Johansen is frustrated with the current voting system used Santa Barbara county which requires him to trust his friends to assist him and mark the ballot as he requests. Not only is Mr. Johansen forced to reveal the content of his vote to his friends who assist him, but the setup of the voting systems in Santa Barbara allow other voters to overhear Mr. Johansen discuss how he would like to vote with his friends. By participating in a lawsuit against Santa Barbara County he hopes to bring changes that will allow him to vote unassisted and in private so that he isn't forced to reveal the content of his vote to his fellow citizens.
Mitch Pomerantz is a resident of the City of Los Angeles where he serves as the ADA compliance officer, ensuring that the city is not only accessible for handicapped individuals but is in compliance with the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Pomerantz has been blind since his pre-teen years and therefore has a personal appreciation for the importance of his work. Having only missed two elections since being eligible to vote, Mr. Pomerantz also understands the importance of civic duty and his right to vote. Through this lawsuit he hopes to ensure that Los Angeles County will provide accessible voting systems in each voting precinct so that disabled persons may regain their independence and no longer be forced to trust others to cast their votes accurately.
Audrey Harthorn is a native of Southern California, and has lived in Los Angeles County since 1963. She has worked for many years advocating for persons with disabilities. Audrey has arthrogyrposis, a genetic condition that she has faced since birth. For Audrey, this means that she must use a wheelchair for mobility, is unable to hold a pen in her hands, and must use her mouth for things in life that non-disabled persons use their hands. Audrey is proud to exercise her right to vote. However, because of her disability Audrey is forced to vote in a manner different from persons without disabilities. In order for her to vote with some semblance of privacy and dignity, Audrey had to endure severe pain and discomfort to her neck, while using her mouth to hold the pen to mark her vote. In the recent March 2nd primary election, Audrey noted that "I almost knocked the entire voting booth over," because of the way she must mark the ballot by using her mouth. Further, Audrey noted that her wheelchair did not even fit in the voting booth, thus compromising her right to a private vote. Audrey joins this lawsuit for the simple reason that she wishes to exercise her right to vote in a manner similar to others without disabilities.