Duval County Still Not Ready With Accessible Voting System
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 4, 2004
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA--Duval County election officials said Friday they do not have enough time to install voting systems that are accessible to people with certain disabilities before the November 2 General Election.
The statement came in response to a September 28 court order by U.S. District Judge Henry Adams requiring the county to install 57 electronic touch-screen voting machines for voters who have disabilities which affect their mobility, who do not read, or are blind.
According to the Associated Press, Assistant Elections Supervisor Dick Carlberg filed papers Friday saying that the process of ordering and installing the machines, and then training the staff in their use, needed to begin on September 25 -- three days before Adams' order -- in order to be ready in time.
Jacksonville attorneys were preparing a request for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to grant a stay.
Earlier this spring, a federal judge ruled that the county had to make voting machines accessible to voters with disabilities in one-fifth of the county's 295 precincts. That order was stayed while election officials appealed the ruling.
But last month, attorneys representing voters with disabilities asked Adams to lift the stay so they could exercise their right to cast a private ballot in this coming election, noting that the money for the machines had been allocated.
The filing by Duval County election officials comes nearly four years after Florida's election debacle drew the world's attention to the county and its punch card ballot problems. It comes nearly three years after a group of blind voters sued the state and city of Jacksonville for purchasing new optical scan voting machines that cannot be used by voters with such disabilities.
In testimony last fall, Pam Hodge, who is blind, told the court, "Each time I went to vote, I was treated differently than other people. It was humiliating and embarrassing."
The move also comes two years after Congress passed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which called for millions of federal dollars to be given to states to make sure that they have voting procedures and polling places that are accessible to people with disabilities.
In related news, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last Monday ordered a lower court to hear a lawsuit demanding that the touch-screen machines be made to print paper receipts.
The case was brought earlier this year in two separate suits by U.S. Representative Robert Wexler, who demanded that the machines in 15 counties be redesigned to produce printable records so voters could verify their ballots were recorded properly.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida threw out Wexler's case. The appeals court decision means the district court must now consider the case.
It was unclear whether any decision would come before November 2.
Also last Monday, former President Jimmy Carter predicted that Florida's 2004 presidential election would be as controversial as the one four years ago.
"The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely," Carter wrote in a Washington Post guest editorial. "Some of the state's leading officials hold strong political biases that prevent necessary reforms."
Wexler v. Lepore (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit)
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"Still Seeking a Fair Florida Vote" by Jimmy Carter (Washington Post)
"Help America Vote Act of 2002" (Federal Election Commission)