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Lawsuit by Disabled, Blind Asks 4 Counties for Voting Machines

March 09, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

In a lawsuit filed against four counties Monday, advocates for the disabled demanded that voting machines usable by blind or paralyzed voters be installed by the November general election.

In Los Angeles County, one of those sued, only one of 4,571 precincts in last Tuesday's election had such a machine, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accuses Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and the four counties of violating the rights of the disabled. The other three counties are San Francisco, Sacramento and Santa Barbara.

The advocacy groups said many blind and paraplegic voters had to cast absentee ballots or vote with the assistance of a third party.

"I can choose to do an absentee ballot, but then I have to rely on the person reading it to me to be honest and vote the way I want them to vote," said Ardis Bazyn, secretary of the California Council for the Blind. "I want to feel secure in my vote. I want to have a private vote."

The touch-screen machines that the suit seeks cost about $3,000 each, according to John E. McDermott, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The machines include a reading of the ballot through headphones for the visually impaired. The voter turns a wheel to hear the next selection and have his choice confirmed. The machines also have a straw-like device that allows paralyzed voters to mark their on-screen selections.

"We believe that the right to vote secretly and independently is the foundation of our great nation," said Jim Dickson of the American Assn. of People with Disabilities, one of the plaintiffs.

The suit also seeks to overturn Shelley's November 2003 directive, which required all new touch-screen voting machines purchased by counties to include a printed receipt to verify the voter's selections. None of the voting machines currently manufactured has that capability, which has prevented counties from purchasing new machines.

At the time, Shelley said a voter-verified paper trail would ease security concerns about the electronic voting system.

Fourteen counties have touch-screen voting technology. But in Alameda and San Diego counties, a number of voters were turned away last week because of malfunctioning touch-screen machines.

A spokesman for Shelley, Doug Stone, said the secretary of state would not comment on the lawsuit until he had seen it.

Touch-screen voting machines also present the ballot in multiple languages. Kathay Feng, a spokeswoman for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, said her group supports the lawsuit.

"As complicated as propositions are ... sometimes seeing the ballot in a second language is helpful for voters to make sure the choices they want are actually what they end up casting," Feng said.

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