FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. (February 4, 2020) - Voters with disabilities in West Virginia will now have an easier time voting absentee and exercising their fundamental right to vote. Until the passage of SB 94, which allows voters with physical disabilities to vote by electronic absentee ballot, voters with disabilities faced multiple barriers to voting privately and independently, forcing them to reveal their ballot choices to a third party or being excluded from voting all together because of inaccessible polling places and ballots. Members of the American Council of the Blind, the Centers for Independent Living, and West Virginia voters with disabilities raised this critical civil rights issue to Secretary of State Warner’s office: that West Virginia’s absentee voting program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because it excluded voters with disabilities from the absentee voting process. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, and Disability Rights of West Virginia, who represent these organizations, commend Governor Justice and the West Virginia legislature for prioritizing this important legislation and ensuring that voters with disabilities will have equal access to absentee ballots in time for the May 2020 primary election.
“A critical guarantee of our democracy is the right to privately and independently mark, cast, and verify an election ballot. This right is not always afforded to people with disabilities, at the poling location or when voting absentee. The American Council of the Blind commends Governor Justice and the West Virginia State Legislature for passing S.B. 94 to ensure all residents of the Mountain State may fully participate in the democratic process,” said Eric Bridges, Executive Director, American Council of the Blind.
Prior to the passage SB 94, West Virginia’s absentee voting program required the voter to complete a paper ballot, which includes reading standard text, physically filling out the ballot, sealing and certifying the ballot via a signature on the envelope, and mailing the ballot back to the appropriate voting official. Each of these requirements erects a barrier to accessibility. When these barriers exist, individuals are forced to seek help from other people in order to vote, depriving them of the right to cast his or her ballot privately and independently.
“Ensuring equal access to the ballot is fundamental to our democracy. Yet, voters with disabilities have been consistently disenfranchised in absentee voting by the requirement to vote by paper ballot. We applaud West Virginia for recognizing the importance of equitable access to the voting process for all voters and the right to cast a private, independent ballot. SB 94 will help to remedy the historic disenfranchisement of voters with disabilities by providing an accessible, secure online option by which they can mark their ballots,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
SB 94 has broad support because the ability to receive, complete, and return an absentee ballot electronically will provide equal access for voters with disabilities as their fellow West Virginians. As a voter, Keith Stewart, said, “To me, it's fantastic. It means that everybody has the same opportunity. We know that everybody who wants to will be able to. That makes me ridiculously happy knowing I will be able to make my voice count. I know of several people who have had the same issues, and this is just great. You don't know how good it makes me feel to know there are people fighting for people like me.”
“We are gratified that the West Virginia Secretary of State and Legislature were eager to join with us in finding a path to make a reasonable accommodation to voters with disabilities so that they can participate in the voting process from home using proven, secure technology. This is a real game-changer, particularly where voting places are not as accessible as they could be,” said Sheppard Mullin Partner Steve Hollman.
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
About Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combating and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. We partner with individuals and communities facing discrimination and with the legal community to achieve justice. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.
About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, & Hampton LLP
Sheppard Mullin is a full-service Global 100 firm with more than 900 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia. Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions. In the U.S., the firm's clients include almost half of the Fortune 100. For more information, please visit www.sheppardmullin.com.
About Disability Rights of West Virginia
Disability Rights of West Virginia (DRWV) is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities in West Virginia. DRWV protects and advocates for the human and legal rights of persons with disabilities. To learn more, visit www.drofwv.org.