North Carolina: Blind voters are being disenfranchised, lawsuit says, and coronavirus doesn't help | The News & Observer

Blind and visually impaired voters will face discrimination and difficult choices in the 2020 elections, a new lawsuit claims, unless North Carolina acts quickly to improve options for voting by mail. North Carolina has specialized voting machines for people with disabilities who vote at any polling place around the state. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a massive increase in voting by mail. And the only option for that is a paper ballot. Having only a paper ballot for mail-in voting, the new lawsuit says, means that unless they want to risk their health to vote in person, blind voters will be forced to not only tell someone else who they’d like to vote for, but also trust that person to actually fill out their ballot. “Ensuring that absentee voting is made accessible for blind voters is particularly important because citizens with disabilities already face many barriers to full and equal participation in the voting process, in contrast with sighted voters,” the lawsuit says.

Texas: Texans with disabilities sue to challenge mail-in ballot process | Katie Hall/Austin American-Statesman

Disability rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas secretary of state, contending that the vote-by-mail process is inaccessible to people with impairments to vision and writing. People with these disabilities must either seek help to vote by mail or “risk their health during this pandemic by traveling to a polling place,” the suit argues. The solution would be to offer online voting options, which are already available to people in the military and people overseas, they said. Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs disagrees, saying it’s unfeasible to implement online voting this close to the general election, according to an attorney who wrote a letter on her behalf earlier this month. The National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the Coalition of Texans With Disabilities, along with three Texas men with disabilities — an Austin man who is blind, a Beaumont man who also is blind, and an Arlington man with cerebral palsy — are suing Hughs. All three men would prefer to vote online for the November election, the suit says.

Virginia: Lawsuit claims Virginia's absentee voting system violates Americans with Disabilities Act | Justin Mattingly/Richmond Times-Dispatch

A group of disability advocacy organizations and voters is suing Virginia over its absentee voting rules in advance of the November election. Five state residents and members of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and the American Council of the Blind of Virginia say in the lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, that they are unable to independently mark a paper ballot due to their disabilities, including blindness, and that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit comes as Virginia prepares for an increase in absentee ballots this year, which state officials are encouraging, given the continued spread of COVID-19. “The (state’s absentee voting system) provides no alternatives to accommodate individuals with print disabilities to enable them to vote privately and independently,” the lawsuit claims. “As a result, individuals with print disabilities must choose between their health and their right to vote because they are forced to go to their local electoral board or polling place to privately and independently mark their ballots.”

Texas: Disabilities advocates: Texas mail ballot system disenfranchises people with disabilities | James Barragán/Dallas Morning News

A group of advocates for Texans with disabilities sued the state of Texas on Friday claiming its mail ballot system kept people with disabilities from participating in mail voting. The lawsuit filed in a federal court in Austin alleges that the current system, which is done on paper ballots, is inaccessible to blind voters and other voters with disabilities who can’t compete a paper ballot because of their disability. The plaintiffs asked the federal court to force the state to implement a vote-by-mail system that is remotely accessible for people with disabilities before the November elections. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and three individual plaintiffs. They are represented by Brown Goldstein & Levy and Disability Rights Texas. “There is plenty of time to allow Texas to make mail-in ballots accessible in time for the upcoming elections on Nov. 3,” Lia Davis, senior attorney at Disability Rights Texas, said in a statement. “People who are blind have a right to use the mail-in ballot option, and they should not be unnecessarily exposed to the COVID-19 virus at the polls. We believe there is an easy remedy to this problem and the Secretary of State’s obstinance is discriminatory.”

Maine: Visually impaired voters sue state over lack of accessible absentee ballots | Megan Gray/Portland Press Herald

A group of voters has sued the state and several municipalities, arguing that the state violated federal law by not providing an electronic alternative to paper ballots for people who are visually impaired. State officials encouraged voters to use absentee ballots during this week’s primary to minimize the risk of people gathering at polling places and spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Every polling place in Maine has an accessible voting machine for people with disabilities, but paper ballots are the only option for most people who want to vote absentee. Four voters from different Maine communities filed the lawsuit in federal court in Bangor on Tuesday. Disability Rights Maine is representing the plaintiffs, each of whom requested an electronic ballot to vote absentee but were denied. The suit names Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and municipal clerks in Portland, Augusta, Bangor and Winslow. While the state allows a voter to receive assistance in reading or marking their absentee ballots, the plaintiffs argue that option compromises their ability to vote independently and privately.

New Hampshire: Blind voters sue over New Hampshire absentee ballot system | Holly Ramer/Associated Press

New Hampshire’s absentee ballot system will force blind voters and those with other disabilities to sacrifice their privacy, safety or potentially both during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed against the state. Disabilities Rights Center-New Hampshire sued Secretary of State William Gardner on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and its New Hampshire chapter, Granite State Independent Living, and three voters with disabilities. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, seeks to force the state to implement an accessible, electronic absentee voting system. Every step of New Hampshire’s absentee voting program is inaccessible,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs are entitled to equal access to New Hampshire’s absentee voting program to vote privately, secretly, independently, and safely, as individuals without disabilities can.” Absentee ballots typically are only available in limited circumstances, but the state is allowing anyone to use them for the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election if they have concerns about the virus. Special voting machines for people with disabilities will be available for those who vote in person, but both scenarios are problematic, according to the lawsuit.

Michigan: Blind voters say Secretary of State Benson broke voting promise | Paul Egan/Detroit Free Press

Blind voters in Michigan are asking a federal judge to find Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in contempt, saying she failed to live up to an agreement to implement a system for them to vote absentee in the August primary. Blind voters Michael Powell and Fred Wutzel, along with the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan, sued Benson in April, alleging that with COVID-19 making it dangerous for blind voters to go to the polls — where they can use special equipment to vote privately and independently — the state’s absentee voting system is unworkable for the blind. But on May 1, the parties in the case agreed to a consent order. That agreement required the state to introduce a Remote Accessible Vote-by-Mail system for the Aug. 4 primary, allowing blind voters to cast an absentee ballot privately and independently, just as other voters can. Under the system, blind voters could easily request and receive an accessible ballot online and read it and fill it out with existing screen reading technology, said Jason Turkish, the Southfield attorney representing the plaintiffs.

New York: New Accessible Absentee Ballots Aren’t Accessible Enough, Voters Say | Ethan Stark-Miller/City Limits

New Yorkers with disabilities had mixed reactions to the accessible absentee ballot option that the state Board of Elections (BOE) implemented for the June 23 primary. Voters with disabilities named a number of problems with their accessible absentee ballots, from them not being compatible with screen reader technology to having issues with printing the ballot and bringing it to the mailbox independently. These problems, voters with disabilities said, got in the way of them being able to vote independently and privately. “It was disappointing, in that I was not able to independently mark my ballot without (a sighted person’s) assistance,” said Meghan Parker, a legislative co-chair of the American Council of the Blind New York (ACBNY). Parker, who is blind, said she wasn’t able to mark the ballot by herself because it was incompatible with her screen-reader technology. On the other hand, Ian Foley – the other legislative co-chair for ACBNY – said he spoke with members of his organization who had positive experiences with the ballot.

New York: Advocates Sue Board of Elections to Make Absentee Voting Accessible for the Primary | Ethan Stark-Miller/City Limits

Disability rights groups sued the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) last Friday in a bid to make absentee voting accessible for voters with disabilities by the state’s June 23 primary. There was a hearing on the lawsuit Thursday morning. But the plaintiffs are already seeing some success outside of court, with the BOE passing a resolution on Wednesday to try to make PDF ballots available to some of those who request them for the primary. The groups filed the lawsuit with the Southern District of New York (SDNY), alleging the BOE is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing an accessible absentee voting system. They aim to compel the BOE to provide accessible absentee voting options to New Yorkers with disabilities, because the paper ballots the board currently uses are inaccessible to those with visual impairments and dexterity issues. This is so voters with disabilities can vote privately and independently without going to polling sites to use the accessible voting machines called ballot marking devices, which is a risk to their health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pennsylvania: Judge orders Pennsylvania to launch new voting method for visually impaired voters | Emily Previti/PA Post

A federal judge ruled late Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Department of State must provide a way for visually-impaired voters to fill out an absentee or mail-in ballot online, print it at home and return it to their county elections office. This approach would require the use of assistive technology, such as screen readers or the ability to update refreshable braille displays. The order was prompted by a lawsuit filed May 21 by the National Federation for the Blind of Pennsylvania on behalf of Joseph Drenth  a blind individual living in Chalfont, Bucks County, and working as a software engineer. NFB-Pa. and Disability Rights PA attorneys noted the health risks of voting in-person during the pandemic and the fact that if Drenth “were to go to a polling place, he could not determine on his own whether the people surrounding him were maintaining adequate ‘social distancing’” or taking other precautions. Independent of coronavirus concerns, the lawsuit also faults the existing absentee and mail-in ballots because they require a blind voter to have help in filling them out — an infringement on the voter’s right to privacy.

New York: Disability Equals Disenfranchisement, Lawsuit Says | Peter Slatin/Forbes

As the Trump administration and a mix of governors and state legislatures try to suppress voting by mail across the Union, a coalition of disability rights groups and citizens with disabilities is still fighting for full enfranchisement, 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The latest battleground is New York State, where the group has filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the state’s Board of Elections (BOE) for discrimination against New Yorkers with disabilities. While the state’s mail-in Absentee Voting program has recently been expanded in response to Covid-19 to enable voting by mail rather than by visiting a public polling place, no provision has been made for those who are unable to privately and independently mark a paper ballot. And although active duty military and citizens overseas can cast their votes electronically, that option is simply not allowed for the disabled. Along with several citizens, the plaintiffs’ coalition includes New York State affiliates of the National federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, all backed by their national offices. They are represented by law firms including Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights New York, and Brown Goldstein Levy LLP, a leading firm in disability rights advocacy.

Pennsylvania: Blind voters sue Pennsylvania, say they risk COVID-19 exposure without online voting option for June 2 primary | Matt Miller/PennLive

The National Federation of the Blind has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Pennsylvania, claiming the state isn’t taking steps to adequately protect blind voters from the coronavirus during the delayed June 2 primary election. A virus-prompted provision that will give sighted voters the option of casting their ballots by mail to avoid possible contagion is useless to blind electors, the federation claims in suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court. It is asking the court to order the state to develop a system where blind voters can select their candidates online. Otherwise, the federation contends, many of those voters will have to either pass up the election or risk their health by going to the polls to seek help in voting from poll workers. “The once-in-a-century impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has indelibly changed Pennsylvania. For example, for the upcoming…primary election, most Pennsylvanians will choose to safely vote via absentee or mail-in ballot instead of going to the polls, where they risk their health,” the suit states. “But this safer, vote-at-home option is not available to blind1 Pennsylvanians, because the commonwealth’s absentee and mail-in ballots are inaccessible to the blind,” it adds. “Pennsylvania’s reliance on exclusively paper ballots keeps blind Pennsylvanians from participating in absentee and mail-in voting.”

Michigan: Blind voters use electronic absentee ballots for first time | Grant Herme/ClickOn Detroit

Blind voters and advocates celebrated this week after Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was forced to allow the use of electronic absentee voting normally reserved for men and women overseas. The technology allowed many blind voters to cast their ballots independent of help for the first time. The process is simple. The ballot appears on the screen and a person who is blind can have it read to them like any other text through a text-to-speech program. It can also be run through a braille system for the deaf-blind. After a ballot is filled out it’s print, sign and send. Michael Powell, with the Michigan chapter of the National Federation for the Blind, is one of the men suing the state for wider use of the electronic system on behalf of blind voters. “Why should they risk going to a polling location and, and especially if they go to one and they find they can’t use it because the people don’t know how to use the machine or if there’s some kind of issue, and they’ve risked their lives for nothing,” Powell said.

New York: Can the State Run a Safe Primary in June and Accommodate Voters With Disabilities? | Ethan Stark-Miller/City Limits

When Ian Foley goes to the polls on election day he casts his ballot with a piece of assistive technology called a ballot marking device. Foley can’t use traditional paper ballots because he’s legally blind, so the ballot marking device gives him an accessible way to read and mark his ballot. “That machine will basically walk us through the ballot, each step: like ‘column one, line one: here’s the Democrat running for village council,’” Foley, who’s legislative co-chair for the American Council of the Blind New York (ACBNY), said. However, going to polling sites in June for the primaries, and possibly in November for the general election, this year is a far more dangerous proposition amid the COVID-19 crisis. The New York State Board of Elections cancelled its Democratic presidential primary for this year Monday over this very concern, citing the fact that Joe Biden is the only candidate left in the race as the reason. However, the state will still be holding a primary on June 23 for congressional and state offices.

Michigan: Blind voters sue State for not making absentee ballots accessible during coronavirus | Taylor DesOrmeau/MLive

Absentee ballots aren’t an option for blind Michigan voters who want to vote on their own. And during the coronavirus pandemic – when state officials are encouraging people to stay home and vote absentee instead of congregating at the polls – that’s dangerous, said Jason Turkish, managing partner at Nyman Turkish PC. The firm is suing Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Director of Elections Jonathan Brater for failing to provide alternatives for blind people to vote absentee. The lawsuit requests a judge to require Michigan to implement an accessible absentee voting alternative by the May 5 election. The federal lawsuit was filed over the weekend, on behalf of blind Michiganders Michael Powell and Fred Wurtzel, the current and former president of the Michigan Affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.

Canada: Nova Scotia could see limited internet voting for military with proposed changes | Keith Doucette/The Canadian Press

Limited internet voting for the military and financial reimbursement for candidate expenses related to family care feature in a series of proposed changes to Nova Scotia’s Elections Act tabled Friday. Justice Minister Mark Furey said the changes would reduce barriers to running in elections and make voting easier for members of the military who are serving elsewhere in Canada or overseas. Under the changes, candidates would be reimbursed for extra expenses such as child and spousal care, elder care or care for a person with a disability. “Public service is foundational to our democracy, and my hope is that these changes will reduce barriers to running, especially for women who are primary care givers in so many elements of their family,” Furey said.

National: Disability rights groups say focus on election security hurting voter accessibility | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Disability rights advocates on Thursday urged election officials to focus on accessibility alongside security for U.S. elections and pushed for more technological solutions that would allow all Americans to cast secure votes. “For people with disabilities, our votes aren’t secure now,” Kelly Buckland, the executive director of the National Council for Independent Living, said at an election accessibility summit hosted by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on Thursday. “I believe we could make them more secure through technology that is available today.” After Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections — which according to U.S. intelligence agencies and former special counsel Robert Mueller involved sweeping disinformation efforts on social media and targeting of vulnerabilities in voter registration systems — election security has become a major topic of debate on the national stage. Concerns around the use of technology in elections were also heightened this month following the use of a new vote tabulation app by the Iowa Democratic Party during the Iowa caucuses. The app malfunctioned due to a “coding issue,” leading to chaos around the final vote tally.  After these incidents, election security experts have advocated for using more paper ballots to ensure no individual or group can hack the votes, and to ensure no glitch can occur.  However, disability groups on Thursday noted that moving to just paper could make it difficult to vote for blind or visually impaired people, those who have difficulty leaving their homes, or those for whom English is not their first language.

West Virginia: Security dangers of online voting don’t deter West Virginia | The Fulcrum

West Virginia is looking to become the first state to allow disabled people to vote using their smartphones. Republican Gov. Jim Justice is expected to sign legislation, which breezed through the GOP-controlled Legislature last month, requiring all counties to provide an online balloting option to anyone who cannot use a regular voting machine because of physical disability. The new law puts West Virginia more firmly on one side of the ease-versus-security divide in the debate over modernizing voting systems. In the wake of hacking attempts by Russian operatives during the 2016 election, almost all the experts on ways to prevent such interference are opposed to online voting of any sort. At the same time, advocates are pushing hard for methods making voting plausible for the one in eight Americans with a disability. In 2018 West Virginia became the first state to create a mobile application for voting, but it was only available to members of the military stationed abroad. It was used by 147 West Virginians with homes in 24 countries to cast their midterm ballots for Congress and state offices.

West Virginia: Bill To Allow Internet Voting For West Virginians With Disabilities Passes Legislature | West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a bill that would allow voters with certain disabilities to vote electronically in the upcoming election.  Senate Bill 94 will provide West Virginians with disabilities the same electronic voting ability the West Virginia Secretary of State allowed for overseas military members in 2018. It’s the first bill both chambers of the Legislature have voted on this year. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for final approval. Donald Kersey, general counsel to the Secretary of State’s office, said Thursday qualifying voters will know within a month what kind of electronic voting methods will be available to them, assuming Gov. Jim Justice signs the bill. He said because Tusk-Montgomery Philanthropies, a mobile voting advocacy group, has offered to pay for the associated equipment, implementing the bill won’t cost anything to the state or the counties responsible for offering and collecting the ballots. The same group covered mobile voting costs in the last election.

Wisconsin: ‘Model’ disability rights voting program has declined | Rory Linnane/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Despite the clamor to turn out Wisconsin voters in 2020, some voters might be stopped at the doors of their polling places. Auditors have flagged hundreds of violations at Wisconsin polls that make it harder or impossible for voters with disabilities to vote in person. A Journal Sentinel review of audits found officials are missing required action plans to fix most of these issues from the last two years. Though Wisconsin once had a robust program for monitoring accessibility problems at polls — one that was lauded as a best practice by a presidential commission in 2014 — state officials have let it wane. Since the recognition, officials have missed audits, been slow to follow up on accessibility violations and provided fewer supplies to help polling places become more accessible. “This dramatic decrease in the audit program is troubling as these audits provide critical information on the accessibility of polling places around the state,” said Denise Jess, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Jess serves on an advisory committee for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which runs the accessibility program. She and other disability rights advocates on the committee want to see the commission do more to address problems that shut out voters with disabilities.

West Virginia: Judiciary Committee Will Recommend Electronic Absentee Voting Bill For People With Disabilities | Emily Allen/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of the Joint Judiciary Committees voted Monday to recommend a bill to their respective chambers, allowing voters with certain physical disabilities to cast absentee ballots electronically. Currently, West Virginia allows voters with qualifying impairments to cast paper mail-in votes, as long as they’re on a special absentee voting list maintained by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. But, according to Jeremiah Underhill, legal director for the group Disability Rights of West Virginia, navigating a piece of paper can be an impediment for someone who has a serious hand or visual impairment. “Voting is a fundamental right that is preserved in the U.S. Constitution,” Underhill told the committee. “Everyone is afforded a legal opportunity to vote.”

Wisconsin: Voters with disabilities face barriers at the polls | Rory Linnane/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A sign on a door reading “handicapped entrance, knock hard.” A set of stairs leading to voting booths with no elevator. A poll worker demanding voters state their names and addresses aloud, no matter their ability to speak. These are just a few of the barriers voters with disabilities have faced at Wisconsin polling places in recent elections. Advocates say the issues are preventing people with disabilities from voting with the same ease and privacy as others — or preventing their votes entirely. The last state report on accessibility barriers, in 2015, found most audited polling places had problems. State law requires such a report every two years, but state officials failed to complete one in 2017 and they’re late on the 2019 report.  The 2015 report found about 4,000 accessibility problems at 808 polling places. It said about 1,650 problems were severe enough to likely prevent some voters from entering and casting a private and independent ballot.  Federal law requires voting facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities.

North Carolina: Election security debate affects voters with disabilities | Jordan Wilkie/Raleigh News & Observer

When Damon Circosta, chairman of the state board of elections, voted in August to certify an elections equipment system opposed by local election security advocates, he said conversations with disability rights groups helped him make that decision. Circosta, whose vote broke a 2-2 tie, was in his first meeting as board chair. Carolina Public Press first asked Circosta on Aug. 23, the date of the meeting, about which disability rights groups he had talked with in making up his mind. A response, emailed by Board of Elections public information officer Pat Gannon, did not answer CPP’s question. Neither did records requests for communications between Circosta and any disability rights group or advocate. The records showed that one person, Lawrence Carter, president of the Raleigh/Wake Council of the Blind, submitted a written statement and made public comment, but his views were in opposition to the voting system Circosta voted to certify.

Maryland: National Federation of the Blind sues State Board of Elections over ballot privacy | Danielle E. Gaines/WTOP

A group of Maryland voters is suing the state of Maryland, alleging that state policies require them to cast a segregated ballot. The National Federation of the Blind, its Maryland affiliate and three blind registered Maryland voters — Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager and Joel Zimba — filed a lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Elections in U.S. District Court on Thursday. The lawsuit alleges the elections board is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws by maintaining a segregated system of voting that denies blind voters their right to a secret ballot and an equal voting experience. At issue are the state’s policies for using ExpressVote ballot-marking devices – which can allow voters who are blind or have motor disabilities to use headphones, magnification, touchscreens and other features to independently cast ballots. The machines do not record votes directly but mark a paper ballot that is printed and scanned. ExpressVote paper ballots are a different size and shape than paper ballots filled out by hand, making those votes cast by Marylanders with disabilities immediately identifiable, advocates say.

National: Disabled voters left behind in push to amp up 2020 security, advocates say | Jordan Wilkie/The Guardian

Russian attacks on American democracy in 2016, carried out over the internet, have triggered a national debate over the use of technology in the United States’ upcoming 2020 elections. But some of the best ways to beef up the security of the voting process and fight off future cyber-attacks could have an unintended consequence: limiting access to the vote for people with disabilities. Voting on hand-marked paper ballots – which by definition can’t be hacked – combined with robust audits of how the elections were carried out and how the votes were counted is widely seen as the most secure way to run an election. Cybersecurity experts want hand-marked paper ballot systems, but disability rights advocates want voting machines to be used for all voters, as they are best for disabled access. The two groups have been butting heads over this since the Help America Vote Act (Hava) of 2002, which gave states $3.9bn to buy new voting technology and required every polling place have at least one accessible voting machine. Rather than operate parallel systems – and since it was on the federal dime – many county and state governments decided to purchase voting machines to be used by all voters – something now seen as a security weakness.

Editorials: New Pennsylvania voting security measures could disenfranchise voters with disabilities | Imani Barbarin and Gabe Labella/Philadelphia Inquirer

Imagine getting up early on election day having done your homework on the issues, educated yourself on candidates’ positions, and chosen whom to vote for, only to find poll workers who do not know how to turn on, set up, or assist you in using the voting machine. That is exactly the type of story we at Disability Rights Pennsylvania heard, along with a host of others, during the last presidential election in 2016 when we ran a hotline for disabled voters. During the 2016 election, less than 20 percent of polling places were accessible to people with disabilities. Some voting systems rarely had instructions included, others lacked tactile buttons for people with low vision, and for some systems, the voters could not verify that the ballot reflected their choices. For these reasons, voter turnout for people with disabilities remains under 50 percent. According to the American Association of People With Disabilities, 16 million of the eligible 35 million voters with disabilities cast a ballot in the 2016 election. With election security on the minds of legislators, there is fear that changes to polling technology will only further disenfranchise citizens with disabilities in the coming election. Pennsylvania Bills S.B. 411-419 have been introduced in the House and Senate to update and reform the election system. This comes as counties and the disabled across the state test new voting systems that create a paper trail through different formats.

National: Thousands With Disabilities Have Lost the Right to Vote | WhoWhatWhy

Though an estimated 113 million US citizens got to vote in the midterms, thousands more were left out — unable to vote or even register because of laws that consider them mentally incapable of doing so. These state laws affect the thousands of adults in the US under guardianship — people who, because of a disability, have been determined legally to be incapable of performing necessary daily tasks for themselves, and therefore are in need of a guardian to help them. The status of their right to vote — much as for convicted felons — is determined by the state they live in. However, unlike the widely publicized disenfranchisement of felons, many people are unaware of the problems facing those under guardianship. “This is an issue that, for the large part, I think, flies under the radar if you are not working on it,” Michelle Bishop, voting rights specialist for the National Disability Rights network, told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s not being talked about. The average American doesn’t know this type of thing happens, that you can have your right to vote denied based on having a disability.”

National: Majority of disabled voters in U.S. faced challenges in casting ballots in ’16 | WHYY

When it comes to expanding voter access, most often the conversation centers around allowing early voting or establishing automatic voting registration. But a forum at the University of Delaware Tuesday focused instead on making voting more accessible for those with disabilities. “We still have this cultural lag where we don’t really expect people with disabilities to be voters,” said Rabia Belt, historian and assistant professor at Stanford Law School. “It’s still quite difficult for people to be able to access polling places, people to receive the accommodations that are legally mandated.” The forum organized by UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies looked at how people with disabilities are underrepresented at the polls.

Kansas: ‘There’s no road map for him’: Deaf candidate for Kansas House aiming to make history | The Kansas City Star

As the Olathe candidate knocked on a voter’s door, a dog inside barked and the sound of footsteps approached. The candidate didn’t look up. He’s deaf. The door opened. The homeowner started to say hello but trailed off as the candidate gestured to his ear and smiled. He pointed to his shirt — “Haulmark for Kansas” — and held up a pamphlet advertising his campaign. The homeowner nodded, tilting his head slightly, and looked on. There have been deaf city counselors and a deaf mayor, but Chris Haulmark, if elected, would be the first deaf legislator — at the state or national level — in U.S. history, according to the National Association of the Deaf. “It will be the very first time in America’s history that finally a deaf person has been invited to the table to sit with the other politicians, legislators and lawmakers and be able to make decisions together,” Haulmark, 39, said recently at an event commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Georgia: Randolph County Can’t Back Up Its Excuse For Plan To Disenfranchise Black Voters | HuffPost

Officials in a majority-black Georgia county accused of trying to close almost all polling places to make it harder for black people to vote claimed last week that the locations couldn’t be used because of accessibility problems for people with disabilities. But Randolph County doesn’t have a single recent report, analysis or document supporting the idea that it needs to close seven of its nine polling places due to accessibility issues, a lawyer for the county told HuffPost on Tuesday in response to a public records request. HuffPost requested records from the county dating back to March 1, 2018. The county hired Michael Malone, an outside elections consultant now pushing for the closures, on April 2. But according to the county, it has no written record of evidence to back his recommendations. “There is no document, report or analysis studying the handicap accessibility of polling places in Randolph County and the cost of fixing them within the time frame specified in your open records request,” Hayden Hooks, an attorney with the firm Perry & Walters, which represents Randolph County, wrote in an email. The county has no record of such a document in the past year, Hooks added.