June 25, 2020
Mr. Christopher Herren
Civil Rights Division, Voting Section
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Mr. Herren:
I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability, an independent nonpartisan federal agency authorized to conduct objective and comprehensive investigations, research, and analysis on policies that affect people with disabilities, to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to timely remind State Board of Election Administrators of their responsibilities under federal law in light of changes being made due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- that election options made available to voters during the pandemic must be accessible to people with disabilities. I also urge DOJ to monitor, investigate, and stand ready to address potential civil rights violations for voters with disabilities that arise from these modifications through enforcement activities.
Federal law requires that voters with disabilities be provided an accessible way to vote privately and independently, even if the option is to not vote in-person. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to ensure that voters with disabilities are offered an opportunity to vote that is equal to the opportunity offered to voters without disabilities, whether in person or absentee. Next, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits public entities receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against people with disabilities in their programs, services, or activities. Furthermore, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) established minimum standards for uniform and nondiscriminatory election technology and administration requirements to allow voters with disabilities to vote independently and privately. Despite these longstanding federal protections for voters with disabilities, NCD identified pervasive architectural, attitudinal, technological, legislative, and voting practice barriers in its report, Experience of Voters with Disabilities in the 2012 Election Cycle. During its investigation, NCD analyzed the experiences of 900 voters with disabilities across the nation during the 2012 election. The report found that states did not allocate adequate resources, planning, and training to provide reliable, accessible voting technology which led to the exclusion of people with disabilities at voter registration and polling sites.
NCD urges DOJ to remind State Board of Election Administrators that people with disabilities must be considered as they plan to hold elections during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that their plans comply with federal law. I welcome the opportunity for your staff to discuss these issues with NCD staff and encourage your team to follow up with Joan Durocher, General Counsel and Director of Policy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Anne Sommers, Director of Legislative Affairs and Outreach, at email@example.com, to discuss these matters further.