The plaintiffs in this case are voters with visual or manual impairments in Duval County, Florida. Duval County purchased voting machines using “optical scan technology,” making it impossible for plaintiffs to vote without third party assistance. An optical scan system provides voters with a paper ballot that features ovals next to each candidate's name or ballot issue. The voter uses a pen to fill in the oval corresponding to his or her vote. The plaintiffs claim the state of Florida failed to provide handicapped-accessible voting machines to visually or manually impaired individuals. The county also purchased three voting machines with audio enhancements and touch screens which allowed for accessible voting, but only three were provided for the whole county. The new technology was intended to remedy problems with “hanging chads” in voting that had become an issue of public concern after the national 2000 election.
The plaintiffs filed a class action against the Florida Secretary of State, the Division of Elections, and County and Jacksonville City officials, alleging that the defendants violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide accessible voting machines after the 2000 election. In 2004, the district court found for the plaintiffs, based on the Title II mandate that public entities, like Duval County, must make any facilities altered after 1992 and newly constructed facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. The court held that voting machines were clearly within the definition of a facility, as provided for by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations accompanying Title II, and issued an injunction ordering the county to provide more accessible voting machines. The defendants appealed.
The DOJ regulations suggest that the term “facilities” applies only to physical structures, or permanent objects that are physically attached to structures. Voting machines are temporary objects that can be moved. They are not physically attached to the walls or floors, and therefore are not part of the “facility.” The court held that voting machines are not facilities under Title II of the ADA.
The court concluded that third party assistance is adequate as an aid to ensure an equal opportunity to vote. There was no violation of an individual's privacy by having to use third-party assistance.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires that polling places provide at least one accessible machine per polling place, ensuring privacy and independence in voting (i.e. without third party assistance). The plaintiffs, however, did not allege a violation of HAVA, so the court's decision was based solely on the ADA.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court injunction requiring the defendants to provide accessible voting machines.
The court in AAPD v. Harris indicates that the ability to vote privately, without third party assistance, is not supported by Title II of the ADA, or by the accompanying DOJ regulations. Although the court does recognize the right to vote as protected by Title II of the ADA, it indicates that third party assistance is an adequate form of accessibility, despite the limitations on independence and privacy.