Federal Lawsuit Seeks to End Voting Rights Violations for Voters with Disabilities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 9, 2021
North Carolina is violating federal voting rights by restricting who is allowed to assist voters with disabilities, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC). These restrictions affect disabled voters across North Carolina, including thousands who live in congregate settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act guarantees the right to vote for people with disabilities, and recognizes that some disabled voters may need assistance with voting. It therefore mandates that disabled voters can choose the individual they want to help them as long as the individual isn’t their employer or union representative.
DRNC’s lawsuit alleges that North Carolina law illegally limits voting assistance, including by restricting who can help a voter with a disability request an absentee ballot. Voters who live in congregate settings are especially harmed by North Carolina law because they are prohibited from seeking help with any aspect of voting from anyone associated with the facility. Since facility staff are often the only help available to these voters, state law effectively prevents them from casting a ballot.
“Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act was meant to ensure that all people with disabilities can vote, but these state rules make it harder, even impossible for disabled people to vote,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights NC. “These barriers violate federal law and deny the dignity, autonomy and humanity of people with disabilities by preventing their full participation in a fundamental right in this country – the right to vote. This is un-American and unacceptable.”
Since its inception in 2007, DRNC has worked to ensure access to voting for people with disabilities. Despite sustained advocacy efforts, unnecessary barriers that disenfranchise voters with disabilities and make the voting process more onerous for them remain. In the 2020 election cycle, DRNC repeatedly heard from facility staff and advocates around the state about voters living in facilities who were eager to vote but could not get the help they needed from the individuals with whom they interact daily.
The lawsuit asks the Court to declare that state law cannot be used to deny assistance guaranteed by federal law to voters with disabilities, and to order that those limits on assistance cannot be enforced against disabled voters.
About Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages, statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at disabilityrightsnc.org.