A former producer at NPR who lost his ability to walk and speak asked a judge Tuesday to restore his right to vote under a new California law that makes it easier for people with disabilities to keep that right and regain it if lost. David Rector, 66, handed a letter to a court clerk shortly after an advocacy group filed a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department asking that California be required to notify people who have been disqualified from voting about the law in time for the Nov. 8 election. “How are these folks supposed to know about the right to get their voting rights back unless somebody tells them?” Thomas Coleman, legal director of the Spectrum Group, said outside the federal building in downtown San Diego. “The state judiciary has been dragging its feet.” For years, California judges had stripped away the voting rights of people with some disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, “almost as a matter of routine,” Coleman said.
Mandy Griffith, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, declined to discuss the status of a year-old Justice Department investigation, launched at Coleman’s request, into whether California unlawfully deprives disabled people of voting rights.
Rector was pushed in his wheelchair several blocks to San Diego Superior Court to deliver his written request. Wearing a white T-shirt with black letters that said, “I want to vote,” he looked at a computer with eye-tracking software that voiced his desire to cast a ballot. A judge will consider the request, court spokeswoman Karen Dalton said.
All but about a dozen states have some type of law limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence. Advocates say how those laws are enforced varies widely — not just by state but by county and judge.