The Texas legislation, which Democrats blocked but Republicans plan to revive in a special session, is one of a series of Republican voting bills that would disproportionately affect people with disabilities. The Wisconsin Senate approved three last week with more to come, though unlike in Texas, the governor there is a Democrat and is expected to veto them. Georgia and Florida have enacted similar measures.
For years, advocates have worked to mobilize Americans with disabilities — more than 38 million of whom are eligible to vote, according to researchers at Rutgers University — into a voting bloc powerful enough to demand that politicians address their needs. Now, after an election in which mail-in voting helped them turn out in large numbers, the restrictive proposals are simultaneously threatening their rights and testing their nascent political influence.
“It’s only been the last few years that there have been studies done showing that if candidates would appeal to issues that the disability community cares about, there is such a thing as the disability vote,” said Bob Kafka, an organizer with Rev Up Texas, which aims to increase turnout among disabled Texans. “That’s why you’re seeing it playing out in Georgia and here and other places where the disability community is part of the larger fight against voter suppression.”
The fight also underscores the degree to which disability rights, once championed both by Democrats like former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republicans like former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, have become one more partisan football, even though there are millions of disabled voters in both parties.
The most recent version of the Texas bill would ban drive-through voting, further limit absentee voting in a state that already has strict eligibility rules, and let poll watchers record video of voters as purported evidence of wrongdoing. Disability rights advocates worry that partisan poll watchers will misinterpret legal accommodations — like a worker helping a disabled voter complete a ballot, or a blind voter using a screen reader — as fraud.
If the primary runoff elections are a test run for November, cracks are becoming apparent in the state’s voting system as it struggles to function under the strain of rampant coronavirus spread.
Early voting is over, and Tuesday is election day in Texas for the low-turnout contests to finalize party nominations for the November general election. In-person voting has generally run smoothly in early balloting, in large part because only a small sliver of registered voters have shown up. But people trying to vote by mail, turning to what’s typically a lightly used system to avoid the risks of human contact at polling places, have faced a host of hurdles and challenges that may foreshadow greater disarray come November. The problems are most pronounced for voters with disabilities.
Talk to Iowans with disabilities and you will hear the same story over and over: a nightmarish experience in 2016, and repeated pleas that bring only vague assurances that 2020 will be better.
The state Democratic and Republican Parties say they have worked hard to make it so. The Democrats have an online form for people to request accommodations by Monday; the Republicans list a phone number, an email address and a Friday deadline. But they have publicized the processes perfunctorily if at all.
A reminder of a significant population often overlooked when summary stats are compiled.
In 2018, 14.3 million people with disabilities cast ballots, more than the 11.7 million Latino voters that year and nearly as many as the 15.2 million African-American voters.
What’s more, the report found that an additional 10.2 million voters last year were people who live with someone who has a disability. When these voters are added to those with disabilities, that means that 20 percent of all voters in the 2018 midterms came from what the researchers called “disability households.”
Also — hey, look, it’s National Disability Voter Registration Week!
When Dee Milliken took her 19-year-old son to vote in November, she hoped the experience would strengthen his ties to the community.
Justin Milliken, who has cerebral palsy and a seizure condition and uses a wheelchair, is nonverbal and largely communicates through grunts and facial expressions. But his mother assumed that with a little help, he could participate in elections.
More than six months later, she’s no longer sure that’s the case.
Poll workers last fall made the process difficult, Dee Milliken said, and have questioned whether Justin Milliken was mentally capable of casting a ballot. Then last Friday, she received a call from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office from an official investigating whether she committed voter fraud seven months ago by helping her son fill out the ballot, she said.
Blog post at the Center for American Progress.
The U.S. Department of Justice will monitor Harris County elections, at county expense, for up to four years under the settlement of a federal lawsuit over inadequate access to polling places for voters with disabilities.
Kira Lerner with a must-read:
A majority-black county in rural Georgia announced a plan last week to close seven of its nine polling places ahead of the November election, claiming the polls cannot continue to operate because they are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The move sparked instant opposition from voting rights advocates, who have threatened legal action if Randolph County follows though with the plan. Activists are also scrambling to collect enough signatures to stop the effort before Friday, when the election board will make a final determination.
The racial implications of the closures have generated significant attention. The county is over 61 percent black, and one of the polling locations that would be shuttered serves a precinct where more than 95 percent of voters are African American. Had the U.S. Supreme Court not gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the closures would most likely have been blocked by the Department of Justice.
But the method the county is using to justify the closures has generated less attention. Republican lawmakers and election administrators in Randolph County are not the first to use the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), intended to protect the nation’s disabled communities, as a pretext to disenfranchise minority voters.
Under President Trump, the federal government has been employing the same strategy. Jim Tucker, an attorney and member of the Native American Voting Rights Coalition, said he learned earlier this year that the Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section is targeting at least three largely Native American counties, where facilities used as polling locations often lack paved parking lots, designated handicapped parking spots, entrance ramps, wide doorways, and other ADA-required features. In several counties, the Justice Department has threatened enforcement actions if local governments do not either spend large sums of money to modernize polling locations or shutter them altogether.
Paula Span NYT column:
Physical barriers at polling places, a longtime obstacle for the elderly and disabled citizens of any age, can prevent older voters’ participation. Voting machines may not accommodate people who use wheelchairs or are visually impaired.
The Government Accountability Office last month reported the results of a survey of 178 polling places used in 2016. Accessibility had improved since 2000, the G.A.O. concluded, but the great majority still had impediments outside — like steep ramps or inadequate parking — or inside that could discourage or exclude disabled voters.
Federal law requires accessibility, but “there’s very little enforcement and resources devoted to ensuring that older Americans and others with disabilities can vote,” said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justiceat New York University.
More recently, a wave of onerous state voting requirements has added to the problem, with an outsized effect on older voters, argues a new report by Senator Robert Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.
The ballots of 23 Sedgwick County voters were tossed out Monday under a state law that requires disabled voters to sign their own mail-in ballot envelopes.
County commissioners, acting as the canvassing board for last week’s election, reluctantly signed off on the decision to toss out the ballots. They said they think the law is wrong, but they had no choice.
Fewer than one in five polling places were fully accessible to voters with disabilities during the 2016 general election, a government report shows — a finding that has prompted federal officials to recommend the Justice Department adopt stricter compliance rules.
The report released Thursday by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office comes less than a week before mayoral elections in Atlanta and New York, elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia and a special U.S. House election in Utah, and gives a window of only a year to address problems before the 2018 congressional elections.
Trevor Ryan, Andrew Henderson and Wendy Bonython have posted this draft on SSRN (UNSW Law Journal). Here is the abstract:
While Australia has a system of universal franchise, in the sense of a system of voting that is broadly inclusionary, there are some notable exceptions – minors and some convicted criminals are excluded, for example. While the political participation of these excluded groups sometimes attracts attention in the media, there is another group that has been even more marginalised, both within society and within debates over the franchise. This group is persons with mental disability or, more precisely, with actual or assumed impaired decision-making capacity resulting from chronic or acute mental illness, dementia, intellectual disability or brain injury. This appears to be changing as individual nations (including Australia) assess their compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on a range of issues and as a greater number of citizens experience dementia in an ageing population. This article seeks to contribute to this reform momentum by comparing the laws relating to this issue across jurisdictions, particularly Japan and Australia, to argue for a political franchise without discrimination against persons with mental disabilities.
Crucial Pam Fessler for NPR:
Tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities have lost their voting rights. It usually happens when a court assigns a legal guardian to handle their affairs. Now, some of those affected are fighting to get back those rights.
David Rector recently went to Superior Court in San Diego, Calif., to file a request to have his voting rights restored. Rector lost those rights in 2011 when his fiance, Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, was appointed his conservator after a brain injury left him unable to walk or speak.
Alexander-Kasparik says he was still able to communicate his wishes to a court clerk.
“He did manage to say through his electronic voice on his eye-tracking device, ‘I, David Rector, want my voting rights restored, immediately,'” she told supporters outside the courthouse.
That’s crucial, because under a new California law, individuals with guardians have to express a desire to vote to be able to do so.
Rector, who used to work as a producer for NPR, is believed to be one of more than 30,000 Californians — and an unknown number of others in the U.S. — who’ve lost their voting rights under state guardianship laws.