Rights: House Committee Holds Hearing on Protecting the Right to Vote During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On June 3, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing titled, “Protecting the Right to Vote During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Witnesses were Stacey Abrams, Chair, Fair Fight Action; J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel, Public Interest Legal Foundation; Barbara Arnwine, President, Transformative Justice Coalition; Jocelyn Benson, Secretary of State, State of Michigan; Michelle Bishop, Disability Advocacy Specialist for Voting Rights, National Disability Rights Network; Tom Fitton, President, Judicial Watch; Dale Ho, Director, Voting Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union; and Myrna Perez, Director, Voting Rights and Elections Program, Brennan Center for Justice. Visit the Committee website for more information or access video of the hearing.

Accessible Voting Workshop Seminars Available in March and April

The Election Assistance Commission, created by The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), funded the Research Alliance on Accessible Voting (RAAV).  RAAV includes the:

  • Election Center (National Association of Election Officials)
  • Clemson, Rutgers, and Carnegie Mellon Universities
  • Center for Accessible Information
  • Tennessee Disability Coalition
  • Paraquad
  • ATAP (Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs)
  • Election Data Services

RAAV is conducting accessible voting workshop seminars in Seattle (March 7), Washington, DC at Dulles Airport (March 18), and Minneapolis (April 10) for election officials prepare for the 2014 elections.  For details on how to participate, visit the Election Center website.

Presidential Commission on Election Administration Releases Report

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its report, “The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations.”  The Commission was established by Executive Order on March 28, 2013.  Its mission was to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.  One of the commission’s areas of focus was voting accessibility for individuals with disabilities.  The Commission stressed in its report that accessibility of the voting process should be “baked in” to each aspect of election administration.  Additional specific recommendations for local election authorities offered by the Commission include, establishing advisory groups for voters with disabilities to inform election officials and communicate with voters who have disabilities; routinely survey polling places for accessibility and training poll workers on how to interact with voters with disabilities and how to configure and operate the voting equipment.  The Commission stressed the need to update and reform the standards and certification system currently in place to allow for innovation in voting technologies. 

Bipartisan Bill to Update the Voting Rights Act of 1965 Introduced in House and Senate

A bi-partisan bill to update the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  The U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the Voting Rights Act last June, releasing 15 states or localities from having to obtain preapproval from the Department  of Justice for any voting rule changes.  The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 updates the law by tying it to recent acts of discrimination.  States with five violations of federal law determined by a court over the last 15 years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval (states that would be affected currently are: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas).  Cities and counties will be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and persistent, extremely low minority voter turnout over the past 15 years. In addition, the bill requires all states and localities to provide public notice of proposed election rule changes.  The bill would not include voter ID laws as one of the five violations needed to keep the state covered.  The bill also removes the requirement that plaintiffs show that a voting rule intentionally discriminate against a minority group.

New Report on the Experiences of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 Election Cycle

The National Council on Disability (NCD) released a report entitled, “Experience of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 Election Cycle.“  The report found that people with disabilities continue to confront barriers to voting including physical, architectural, and attitudinal barriers at registration and polling sites and problems accessing accessible voting technology.  The report highlights a barrier that is particularly troublesome for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – guardianship.  The report makes several recommendations, including one specific to guardianship:

  • NCD recommends that state legislatures and local rulemaking authorities conduct a review of state guardianship laws and modify them where necessary to ensure that all people with intellectual, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities have full access to the right to vote, independent of their legal capacity.

Seeking stories from voters with disabilities across the nation

In coordination with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and EIN SOF Communications, the National Council on Disability is collecting voting experiences in the form of an open-ended questionnaire from voters with disabilities across the nation during the November 2012 election. Completed questionnaires should be sent to:
Voting.Questionnaire@ndrn.org or sent via postal mail to:
NDRN, 900 Second Street, NE, Suite 211, Washington, DC 20002. A Final Report on the findings will be published in early 2013.

Enforcement of federal voting rights laws in general election

Last week, The Justice Department announced that its Civil Rights Division plans to deploy more than 780 federal observers and department personnel to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states for the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.

Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day.

In the days leading up to and throughout Election Day, Civil Rights Division staff members will be available by telephone to receive complaints related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws (toll free 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767 or TTY 1-877-267-8971).  In addition, individuals may also report such complaints by fax to 202-307-3961, by email to voting.section@usdoj.gov  and by a complaint form on the department’s website: www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/.

Prominent Washington, DC publication prints op-ed on voting rights for people with disabilities

In advance of the upcoming National Forum on Disability Issues, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the major Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and former California Rep. Tony Coelho, a primary sponsor of the bill, co-wrote an opinion piece about voting rights for people with disabilities.  Read more on Politico’s website.

Federal Court dismisses lawsuit to deny voting rights to some individuals with disabilities in Minnesota

A federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the right of some Minnesotans with disabilities to vote earlier this month. In the case of Minnesota Voters Alliance, et. al. v. Mark Ritchie, et. al. U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank ruled that Plaintiffs did not make a valid challenge to Minnesota’s law and legal decisions that protect the voting rights of persons under guardianship.

To read more about this ruling visit The Arc of Minnesota’s website.