California bill provides new protections for voters with disabilities

Vote buttons and American flag

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law October 10, which aims to ensure voters with intellectual disabilities are not illegally disqualified from voting.

Currently under state law, people under guardianship, known as conservatorships in California, are denied their right to vote if they are unable to fill out an affidavit of voter registration. SB-589 will create a presumption that voters under conservatorships are qualified to vote.

Specifically, the state, in order to disqualify an individual from voting, must establish by clear and convincing evidence that  “the person cannot communicate, with or without reasonable accommodation, a desire to participate in the voting process.”

This standard is in line with a series of recommendations adopted by the American Bar Association in 2007.

“Our country has a long history of preventing people with intellectual or mental health disabilities from fully participating in our democracy,” ACLU disability rights counsel Claudia Center said in a news release. “Many states place significantly higher burdens on people with disabilities to demonstrate the capacity to vote, including requiring them to answer questions not required of others.

“This law puts an end to these unfair practices and serves as a model for the nation.”

The bill, introduced by San Diego Senator Marty Block, passed the Senate by a 27-11 vote, while the Assembly approved it 62-11.

“Conservatorship should not mean disenfranchisement,” Sen. Block said in a news release. “Many have risked and lost their lives for the right to vote in our country. Voting is a precious right and privilege that we can and should fully extend to those under conservatorship.”

In 2014, the Spectrum Institute’s Disability and Abuse Project filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, accusing Los Angeles County of systematically violating the rights of people under conservatorship under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Department of Justice confirmed in May it is conducting an investigation.