Category Archives: voters with disabilities

“New Voting Laws Add Difficulties for People With Disabilities”

NYT:

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’”

NYT:

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”

NYT:

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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“Trump administration is using federal disability law to disenfranchise minority voters”

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.
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