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Disabled Voters Sue to Get Accessible and Secret Voting in California

August 1, 2006

San Francisco, CA - Voters with visual and manual disabilities filed suit today in San Francisco federal court against the California Secretary of State and five California counties, alleging failure to comply with historic federal legislation guaranteeing disabled voters the right to have a secret ballot and vote without assistance.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), 42 U.S.C. ' 15301, requires full accessibility in voting for disabled voters in the same manner as for all voters. This did not occur anywhere in the State in the June, 2006 elections nor will it occur in November. Thats why we filed suit, to enforce the new law said Lee Page, spokesman for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), a national veterans and disability organization that is the lead plaintiff in the suit.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that California has failed to comply with HAVA. It also seeks an order requiring the California Secretary of State to present to the Court a plan and a timetable for bringing California into compliance with HAVA.

The suit alleges that the Secretary of State has not approved any voting systems that ensure accessibility, privacy and independence for all disabled voters. It further alleges that the Secretary of State has approved individual voting systems that are not accessible to all disabled voters in the same manner as for other voters.

For example, paralyzed veterans and quadriplegics in Marin, San Francisco and Santa Rosa counties cannot vote privately and on their own unless there is the proper voting system. Blind voters cannot verify the accuracy of their ballot because of Californias paper trail requirement.

Three of the defendant counties--San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma, use the ES&S AutoMARK system that denies full accessibility to manually impaired voters. The availability of a direct recording electronic (DRE) machine at each polling location in combination with the AutoMARK would have permitted many of these manually impaired voters to vote privately, independently and without assistance.

Alameda, another defendant county, uses DREs but is required by state law to use a paper audit trail as the official ballot in mandatory sample recounts, which denies accessibility to visually impaired voters. The suit challenges that state requirement as in conflict with federal law.

Yolo, the fifth defendant county, did nothing at all to comply with HAVA for the June 2006 elections, denying both visually and manually impaired voters the right to vote privately and independently. Dan Kysor, a visually impaired plaintiff from Yolo County, commented, I was waiting with great anticipation for the opportunity guaranteed to me by federal law to finally be able to vote privately and independently like all other voters, and I am greatly disappointed that I was unable to do so in Yolo County in June.

The plaintiffs include three national and state disability organizations--PVA, the California Council of the Blind (CCB) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). The individual plaintiffs include Paul Longmore and Ivana Kirola from San Francisco County, Russ Bohlke from Marin County, Manny Fernandez from Sonoma County, Stephen Fort from Alameda County, and Dan Kysor from Yolo County.

Founded in 1946, Paralyzed Veterans is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. It is a dynamic, broad-based organization with more than 21,000 members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. To learn more about Paralyzed Veterans, visit its Web site at