Stephen Lopate was just a boy when he first mentioned he wanted to vote someday in a presidential election. It was 2008, and he told his mother he liked Hillary Clinton because she was a smart woman. Years later, when he turned 18, Lopate’s mother sought a court guardianship of her severely autistic son so that she could oversee his medical affairs and other legal matters. But she and Lopate were horrified and confused when they discovered that the move would result in her son being stripped of his right to vote. “I have always made sure … that he knows his opinion matters,” said Lopate’s mother, Teresa Thompson. “It was just awful.”
Thompson complained to a local disability rights group in Los Angeles, setting off a chain of events that led this week to federal authorities announcing they are investigating allegations that California has systematically and illegally denied intellectually disabled residents such as Lopate the right to vote.
The group, the Disability and Abuse Project, filed a complaint last year with the U.S. Department of Justice contending that the Los Angeles County Superior Court has wrongly stripped people under limited conservatorships of the right to vote if they could not fill out a voter registration affidavit.
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