Standing up for Voting Rights

By Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director, The Arc Minnesota

The voting rights of persons with disabilities are in jeopardy across the nation.  Laws and constitutional amendments to restrict the access of people to the polls have been passed in numerous states already.  Here in Minnesota, voters will decide in the November elections whether to require all voters to have a photo ID and to change other Election Day procedures that will create unnecessary barriers to voting.

In Minnesota, challenges to voting rights have also surfaced in the courts.  Fortunately, disability advocates saw a victory in an August 17 ruling by the U.S. Federal Court in St. Paul.  U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed a lawsuit filed by several state legislators, individuals, and organizations who have worked to restrict voting rights.  The lawsuit asked the court to limit the right to vote of people under guardianship, including people with disabilities.  If the lawsuit were upheld, it would have run counter to current Minnesota law, which presumes that people with disabilities retain their right to vote, unless a court specifically takes that right away.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center, the federal protection and advocacy agency in this state, filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief to the judge hearing the case. It cited the legal and legislative basis for the presumption that people with disabilities under guardianship have the right to vote. The Arc Minnesota signed on to this brief, which the judge said provided a “comprehensive overview and history of Minnesota guardianship law.”

The plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit will appeal the judge’s ruling.  In the meantime, The Arc Minnesota and other disability advocates are celebrating this victory in the courts.  Our efforts will continue to protect the rights of people with disabilities to have a voice in whom their elected officials are.  These will include statewide efforts to defeat the voter restriction amendment on this fall’s ballot, and educating the public and the media about the right of people with disabilities to have a say in issues that touch their daily lives.  Let’s all fight efforts like these that push people with disabilities back into the shadows of society.