(CN) - Blind voters in California can advance claims that the voting machines meant for them in Alameda County malfunctioned and violated their rights, a federal judge ruled.
The California Council of the Blind and five individual voters sued Alameda County because the accessible voting machines for the blind failed to work properly, forcing them to vote with the help of another person.
The county has Sequoia AVC Edge voting machines at each of its polling places. Using voice prompts, headphones and a tactile keypad, a blind person can vote independently.
But the machines allegedly malfunctioned several times on Election Day, and the plaintiffs say they endured long delays as poll workers failed to get the machines working.
More than one plaintiff said they were shuttled to another voting site, only to discover that the machine there did not work either.
The plaintiffs claimed that their voting rights were denied because they had to vote with help. Alameda County moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs were not denied their equal voting rights because they were able to vote with the assistance of a poll worker or family member.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero noted last week, however, that "the court need not decide this issue."
"Even if the service is 'voting,' one of the central features of voting, and one of its benefits, is voting privately and independently," Spero added.
In declining to dismiss, Spero said the plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Requiring blind and visually impaired individuals to vote with the assistance of a third party, if they are to vote at all, at best provides these individuals with an inferior voting experience not equal to that afforded others," he wrote. "Blind and visually impaired voters are forced to reveal a political opinion that others are not required to disclose."
The court did, however, dismiss the claim for violations of state election laws because the plaintiffs failed to identify rules and regulations adopted by the secretary of state.
They also failed to allege that sufficient funds are available to provide access to functioning voting machines that they can use, according to the ruling.
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