Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Appeals Judges Review Order to Add Touch Screens in Duval; the Ruling Came 10 Months Ago after Three Disabled Voters Sued

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Appeals Judges Review Order to Add Touch Screens in Duval; the Ruling Came 10 Months Ago after Three Disabled Voters Sued

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN BASINGER, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- A federal appeals court scrutinized Wednesday whether a U.S. district judge rightfully ordered Duval County's elections office to install additional touch-screen voting machines for blind and disabled voters.

At issue was a 10-month-old order by U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley, who ruled in March in favor of three disabled voters suing now-retired Duval Elections Supervisor John Stafford.

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Association of People With Disabilities, want elections officials to provide at least one touch-screen voting machine with an audio ballot at every precinct in the county so that disabled voters can cast ballots on their own without the help of poll workers. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2001.

Enforcement of Alley's ruling, which was supposed to take effect last year before the Nov. 2 elections, was delayed so the county could appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

During Wednesday's hearing before a three-judge panel, lawyers for the elections office argued Alley erred in ruling Duval County had violated the access-to-facilities rule of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Scott Makar, the county's assistant general counsel, said the federal government's rules on access to facilities for the disabled weren't meant to include access to voting machines.

"They are not devices that provide or increase physical accessibility," he said.

Makar contended that voting machines are instead covered by the ADA's guidelines on access to communications, which the trial judge stated in his opinion the county hadn't violated.

However, Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson questioned whether voting machines wouldn't also count as equipment under the ADA's facility rules.

"Under the definition of 'facility' is the word 'equipment,' " Edmondson said. …

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