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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Voters with Disabilities 

Disability Rights NC Challenged Law Limiting Voting Access for Disabled Voters

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 12, 2022

State laws limiting who voters with disabilities can turn to for assistance violate federal law, according to a ruling issued yesterday by US District Judge Terrance W. Boyle.

The order came in a lawsuit Disability Rights NC filed in September 2021, which challenged restrictions facing voters who need help voting absentee due to a disability. Several NC statutes place strict limits on who can provide assistance, such as specified legal representatives or close family members. Many times, such assistance is unavailable or is not the voter’s preferred source of help. Voters who live in nursing facilities or assisted living facilities have been especially impacted by these North Carolina laws because they have been unable to get help with voting from anyone associated with the facility – sometimes the only help available to these voters.

Under Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act, voters with disabilities who need help voting are entitled to the assistant of the voter’s choosing, with very limited exceptions for the voter’s employer or union. NC’s restrictions are contrary to Section 208 and are pre-empted by federal law, according to the decision.

“Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act helps ensure that people with disabilities can vote, but the unlawful state rules made it even harder,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights NC. “Voting is a fundamental right in this country, and these barriers not only violated federal law, they effectively denied the dignity, autonomy and humanity of disabled people by preventing their full participation in voting. We are gratified to see these barriers come down.”

In the ruling, Judge Boyle said NC cannot enforce these restrictions for disabled voters.  As a result, voters with disabilities who need assistance with voting may request and receive assistance from anyone they choose, except for their employer or union. The judge’s ruling applies to all parts of the voting process, from requesting the absentee ballot to completing the ballot, and returning the ballot to the local board of elections.

Disability Rights NC is consulting with the State Board of Elections on the implementation of the ruling. The Board is expected to issue guidance this week.

 

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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.

Contact:

Lisa Grafstein

Litigation Counsel

919-856-2195 ext 212

lisa.grafstein@disabilityrightsnc.org

 

 

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