DOJ investigating California voting system

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Voting Rights

The Department of Justice confirmed May 15 (PDF format), in a letter to the Judicial Council of California, that it is investigating the nation’s most populous state for violating federal voting and discrimination laws in regard to people with disabilities.

The probe comes in a response to a federal complaint filed in July 2014 (PDF format) by the Disability and Abuse Project of the Spectrum Institute.

The complaint (PDF format) centers on people with court-appointed guardians, called limited conservatorships in California, primarily in Los Angeles.

After being placed under a limited conservatorship, the Los Angeles Superior Court must grant approval before the person under the conservatorship can vote.

The complaint alleges that the Court routinely determines whether these voters are competent to vote by providing a literacy test, despite the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s prohibition on literacy tests for determining voter eligibility.

In addition, the Court allegedly instructs court-appointed attorneys that they cannot assist these individuals understand the voting ballot, despite the Americans with Disabilities Act’s requirements that governmental agencies reasonably accommodate people with disabilities.

“It has to be something more than ‘you can’t fill out a form by yourself,’ or, ‘someone else told us you can’t fill out a form,'” Michael Waterstone, a Loyola Law School professor, told the Los Angeles Times. “You take someone’s right to vote away, you’re taking their ability to create change away. That’s why it’s such a dangerous thing to do.”

Accordingly, a recent audit found that as many as 90 percent of people under limited conservatorships are found ineligible to vote, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges violations under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Although exact figures are not kept, an estimated 10,000 people are under limited conservatorships in Los Angeles alone, along with more than 40,000 statewide.

A report from the Disability Abuse Project, titled Justice Denied, investigating Los Angeles’ voting system can be read here (PDF format).