Court Decisions & Disability Issues Briefs
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) v. Harris

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
647 F.3d 1093
July 27, 2011

Facts of the Case

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.

Issues of the Case

  1. Are voting machines “facilities” within the meaning of the ADA?
  2. Does the lack of an adequate number of voting machines that do not require third party assistance violate Title II of the ADA?

Arguments & Analysis

1. Voting Machines are not Facilities.

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.

2. Third Party Assistance Does Not Violate 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.

3. HAVA Supports the Right to Accessible Voting Machines.

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.

Rulings

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court injunction requiring the defendants to provide accessible voting machines.

Policy & Practice

Voting Machines Are Not Covered By Department of Justice Regulations Interpreting Title II of the ADA.

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.

Links

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

Southeast ADA Center

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