A federal lawsuit filed Thursday challenges San Mateo County’s absentee voting system for excluding blind and visually impaired residents by relying on paper ballots. San Mateo County, like nearly every other California county, has no alternative for people who cannot read a paper ballot. Other jurisdictions outside the state have offered electronic ballots with screen-reading technology. California is behind the curve because the secretary of state hasn’t certified an absentee voting process for the blind, said Michael Nunez, a litigation associate who works for Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, the San Francisco firm that filed the lawsuit. Counties can’t use a voting system in local elections without state certification.
But San Mateo County is under fire because in November it launched an “all vote-by-mail” system — which reduces the number of polling sites in favor of absentee voting. County officials say it was a state-approved pilot program aimed at increasing voter turnout in odd-year elections.
That change meant Lynda Johnson, 56, a lifelong Bay Area resident, didn’t cast a vote in the last election. Johnson, who lost her vision in her 30s because of an eye condition, said going to the polls is intimidating for those who can’t see.
“It produces a lot of stress and anxiety because transportation becomes an issue, and you’re navigating unfamiliar territory,” Johnson said. “I just felt like this was a very unfair situation.”