Voters with disabilities, like every other American citizen, should have the same right and equal opportunity to vote. Absentee voting is essential because many voters with disabilities find it more challenging or risky to cast their ballots in person.
However, the Georgia voting law passed in March 2021 focuses on absentee voting, making voting harder for disabled people. As a result, the ACLU and many other renowned civil rights organizations sought a preliminary injunction this week to prevent Senate Bill 202 from excluding disabled voters in the 2024 election cycle and beyond.
If the bill is passed, it will violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These federal statutes prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, including imposing undue burdens that limit their full and equal access to and participation in elections. The ADA and Section 504 require that states make all voting programs accessible to voters with disabilities. It is illegal to make Georgia’s absentee voting system burdensome or unavailable to voters with disabilities, as SB 202 does.
The new voting bill puts in place several requirements for people who want and need to vote absentee (either by mail or by returning their ballot to a drop box). These rules hit people with disabilities particularly hard because they rely on absentee voting, and the preliminary injunction focuses on two of those new requirements:
First: SB 202 makes it a felony for friends, neighbors, or staff who work in shelters or nursing homes to help people receive or return an absentee ballot, even if the person has a disability. The law says that only a “caregiver” or certain family members can help with ballot returns, but it doesn’t say anything about who counts as a “caregiver” under the law. Georgia has refused to offer guidance about it.
The law also makes it even harder to vote for people who live in institutional settings, like nursing homes or homeless shelters. Often, in those settings, staff help residents with sending mail, but under SB 202, those staff could be charged with felonies for providing that kind of help.
Second: SB 202 requires that ballot drop boxes be placed inside buildings and closed after business hours. Before the law was passed, most drop boxes were located outside buildings and available 24 hours a day.
60% of polling locations still have barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing the polls over three decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Additionally, polling places may not be wheelchair accessible or equipped with assistive technology such as audio access for those who are visually impaired.
In addition, those under guardianship often lose their right to vote. According to federal survey data collected from 33 states by the Election Assistance Commission, over 7,300 people lost their ability to vote due to “mental incompetence” between 2012 and 2014.
Ten states automatically prohibit anyone who has been deemed intellectually disabled from voting. Missouri is one of them, having limited more voters than any other state, rescinding the rights of over 2,000 people due to intellectual disabilities during those election years.
Jack Vaile turned 18 in time to vote in the 2016 elections. He was excited to participate. Due to Jack’s Cerebral Palsy, his father, Lou, became his legal guardian when he turned 18. Because of this, Vaile was unable to vote. Vaile was devastated and went to court to have his voting rights reinstated.
Voting allows disabled people to use their experiences to influence policy decisions in their communities and countries. The voices of disabled people must be heard. Disabled individuals constitute the world’s largest minority.
Furthermore, anyone can become disabled instantly due to an illness, accident, or injury. Some voters may not be thinking about people with disabilities. We are voting and not going anywhere.
Caprino, Kathy. “The World’s Largest Minority Might Surprise You, And How We Can Better Serve Them.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 14 Apr. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/04/14/the-worlds-largest-minority-might-surprise-you-and-how-we-can-better-serve-them/?sh=737aa3ca496f.
Dimmick, Brian, and Caitlin May. “Here’s How Georgia’s New Voting Law Harms Voters with Disabilities: ACLU.” American Civil Liberties Union, 19 May 2023, http://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/heres-how-georgias-new-voting-law-harms-voters-with-disabilities.
Fong, Sabrina. “Why the Movements for Voting Rights and Disability Rights Are Strongest Together.” Ford Foundation, Ford Foundation, 25 May 2022, https://www.fordfoundation.org/news-and-stories/stories/posts/why-the-movements-for-voting-rights-and-disability-rights-are-strongest-together/.
Kleinman, Avery J.C. “Blocked from the Ballot: Meet Jack Vaile, Who Has Cerebral Palsy.” 1A, WAMU, 17 Mar. 2020, https://the1a.org/segments/blocked-from-the-ballot-meet-jack-vaile-who-has-cerebral-palsy/.
Walter, Shoshana. “Disabled and Disenfranchised: Families Fight to Restore Voting Rights.” Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting, 30 June 2021, https://revealnews.org/article/disabled-and-disenfranchised-families-fight-to-restore-voting-rights/.