Court Tosses Disabled Voters’ Class Action

     (CN) – The 11th Circuit dismissed decade-long litigation accusing Florida elections officials of violating the law by not providing equal access and privacy to disabled voters.

     Shortly after the 2000 general election, the American Association of People with Disabilities filed a class action against state officials, claiming disabled voters could not enjoy the same direct and secret voting experience of regular voters, a violation of their fundamental right to vote.
     A year after the lawsuit was filed in 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002, requiring voting equipment used in federal elections to provide equal access to all voters. Also in 2002, the Florida Legislature set new accessibility standards for voting equipment, including the requirement that voting systems include a tactile or audio input device or both.
     Despite the changes, a federal judge ruled in 2004 that Duval County elections supervisor John Stafford violated regulations by buying only three accessible touch-screen machines with audio components for the entire county.
     Stafford was ordered to provide at least one handicapped-accessible voting machine at 20 percent of the county’s polling places by April 12, 2004, and to install touch-screen voting machines with audio capacity by May 14.
     While Stafford’s appeal was pending, the city acquired 326 new, handicapped-accessible voting machines for the county.
     In September 2007, the district court issued a final judgment against Stafford, which the 11th Circuit in Atlanta vacated.
     The lower court had found Stafford in violation of regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, but not the ADA itself. “The regulations … interpret and define the scope of the ADA,” Judge Gerald Tjoflat explained. “They do not, themselves, create a private right of action and remedy.”
     The three-judge panel instructed the district court to dismiss the case with prejudice, barring the plaintiffs from recovering attorney’s fees and costs.

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