Category Archives: voters with disabilities

“Maine Referendum Spotlights Voting Rights for People Under Guardianship “


Since its drafting in 1819, Maine’s constitution has barred people who are “under guardianship for reasons of mental illness” from voting in state and local elections. The state legislature tried to end that exclusion decades ago, putting constitutional amendments on the ballot in 1997 and 2000, but voters rejected the changes both times. A non-profit organization tasked by the state with protecting disabled residents eventually sued, arguing that the prohibition disenfranchised residents in violation of the U.S. Constitution. This led to a favorable federal court ruling in 2001 that declared Maine’s exclusion unconstitutional.

This fall, Maine voters will again decide whether to scrub that exclusion from their state’s constitution, echoing the court ruling. Question 8, one of several constitutional amendments on the state’s Nov. 7 ballot, asks voters if they want to “remove a provision prohibiting a person under guardianship for reasons of mental illness from voting.”  

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“How Many Disabled People Vote Over the Internet? We Need Better Data.”

Center for Democracy & Technology:

From a disability rights perspective, internet voting may be the best or even only way for some disabled voters to cast a ballot independently and thereby enhance access to the ballot. From a cybersecurity perspective, internet voting is considered untrustworthy and unauditable, and therefore poses such severe risks to democracy that internet voting should be limited as much as possible….

Because of the serious security risks posed by internet voting, we need to do the best possible job of ensuring that internet voting is available to those voters who truly need it—and no one else. Right now, we don’t know how well we are doing at that goal. But having better usage numbers will give us a sense and help us improve election policies in order to achieve it….

To help paint a clearer picture of who votes over the internet, the EAC should modify the surveys that it will send to election officials after the 2024 election. Specifically, it should modify the EAPS survey to determine which non-UOCAVA voters in each jurisdiction are allowed to use electronic ballot return, and it should modify the EAVS survey to collect quantitative data on how many non-UOCAVA voters returned their ballots electronically. Reliable data is critical for making informed decisions about election technology and election policy—not just for disabled people, but for everyone….

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“Mississippi can’t restrict absentee voting assistance this year, US judge says as he blocks law”

AP reports: “A federal judge [Henry Wingate] blocked a new Mississippi law that would set criminal penalties for some people who help others with absentee voting — a ruling that comes as absentee ballots are already available in party primaries for governor and other state offices.” The press release from the League of Women Voters, one of the plaintiffs, is here with the court’s order.

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Wisconsin: “Dane County election review finds dozens of ineligible voters who cast ballots; A small number of cases shows why election officials say Wisconsin’s disorganized system for tracking those adjudicated ‘incompetent’ to vote needs a legislative fix.”

PBS Wisconsin:

In 2015, Mark Wake was in a serious motorcycle crash that put him in the hospital for 10 months with a severe brain injury.

“I lost half my head,” he told Wisconsin Watch.

He also lost his voting rights when a Dane County judge placed him under a temporary guardianship.

The county’s register in probate sent that information to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which added Wake’s name and Madison address to a list that contains more than 22,000 who have been “adjudicated incompetent” to vote in Wisconsin. The system is designed to protect mentally incapacitated people from having someone else fill out their ballot.

After Wake recovered, he said the guardianship was lifted, although no court records show his voting rights were restored — an additional step he apparently didn’t take at the time.

But in 2018, despite still being on the statewide ineligible voter list, Wake registered and voted in Poynette, a small Columbia County village where his name was not on the local ineligible voters list. In the 2020 presidential election, he voted again, this time in Madison as a previously registered voter.

Wake is one of 95 people in Dane County who altogether cast more than 300 ballots in past elections despite being on the state’s list of people deemed incompetent to vote, according to a county clerk’s office review of more than 1,000 records from the state’s list. The state elections agency is reviewing all 22,733 entries to ensure the list is accurate, spokesperson Joel DeSpain said.

“The ongoing review of this important topic involves multiple agencies and entities, each with different pieces at play,” DeSpain said. “Our goal is to be able to provide clean and complete statewide data.”

The number of confirmed cases of people voting after losing their voting rights is far more than previously known — and could mean there are hundreds more around the state. But the number is small compared with the millions of votes cast in statewide elections — and not enough to alter past results as former President Donald Trump and others have claimed.

The cases, however, point to a larger issue that election officials say requires a legislative fix: Unlike many other states, Wisconsin does not have a statutorily defined system for tracking people whom a judge rules are mentally incompetent to vote. In Wisconsin, some, but not all, counties notify state elections officials when a person is found incompetent to vote, DeSpain said.

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“New Voting Laws Add Difficulties for People With Disabilities”


Laura Halvorson was ready to vote. On Thursday afternoon, she sat in front of a ballot screen at the Igo Library in San Antonio, after spending a month preparing for this moment. It was the first time in years that she had been in a public place, other than a doctor’s office.

Sitting in her wheelchair, she wore two masks — one a KN95, the other a part of her breathing machine. Because Ms. Halvorson, 38, has muscular dystrophy, a condition that progressively decreases muscle mass, and makes her more vulnerable to Covid-19, she needed to use a remote-control device supplied by poll workers to make her ballot selections.

No one knew how it worked.

The glitch was one of many obstacles she had to navigate, both on that day and over the previous weeks, to fulfill what she saw as her civic duty. For Ms. Halvorson and others with disabilities, casting a ballot can always present a challenge. But new voting restrictions enacted in several states over the past two years have made it even harder.

A law signed last year by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has made it more difficult for voters to cast ballots by mail and narrowed their options for voting in person, according to groups that advocate for people with disabilities and voting rights. Other Republican-led state legislatures, including in Georgia and Florida, have passed similar measures as a part of what they say are efforts to prevent voter fraud, despite rare occurrences of the crime.

“Instead of embracing the more accessible forms of voting that sparked record turnout, including among voters with disabilities,” said Brian Dimmick, a senior staff attorney for the disability rights program of the American Civil Liberties Union, “states have doubled down on new and more restrictive voter-suppression laws.”

None of the new laws single out those with disabilities, but advocates say they have left many people who would otherwise vote by mail with burdensome options: face the greater risk that their mail-in ballot could be thrown out — as Texas did at a higher-than-usual rate during the March primary — or go to the polls in person, which involves its own set of inconveniences or, worse, physical barriers, and often deprives people with disabilities of a sense of privacy and independence that other voters can take for granted.

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“Designing Accessible Elections: Recommendations from Disability Voting Rights Advocates”

Ihaab SyedMichelle BishopSarah BrannonErika Hudson, and Kristen Lee have written this article in ELJ. Here is the abstract:

Disability is frequently cited as a reason that Americans do not vote. This article offers legal and policy practitioner perspectives on core challenges people with disabilities face in exercising their voting rights in the United States, from obtaining election information to casting their ballots. Drawing on our collective experience—which includes professional experience as advocates working to improve access to voting for people with disabilities, as well as first-hand knowledge of how people with disabilities navigate the voting process—we analyze some of the main reasons why barriers persist, despite robust federal accessibility mandates. In doing so, we provide insights into how local and state election officials can improve election policies, practices, and procedures. In presenting our recommendations, we suggest that there is no one-stop, “silver-bullet” solution for achieving accessible elections. An effective pathway toward improvement would involve consulting with a broad spectrum of local residents with disabilities, maintaining close and ongoing dialogue with them about their needs and preferences, and tailoring election programs accordingly.

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“G.O.P. Bills Rattle Disabled Voters: ‘We Don’t Have a Voice Anymore’”


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.

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“Texas runoff elections show stress of coronavirus pandemic on state’s voting systems”

Texas Tribune:

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.

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“Caucusing in Iowa With a Disability: Red Tape and Unreturned Calls”


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.

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“Surge In Voters With Disabilities May Influence 2020 Election”

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!

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New Hampshire: “Charlestown mother investigated for voter fraud after helping disabled son vote”

Valley News:

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.

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