The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute was a terrible setback to people with disabilities and our efforts to make sure that the disability community’s right to vote is protected. The Supreme Court’s support for the state of Ohio’s method of purging voters from its rolls hurts many minority, low income and marginalized communities in Ohio—and threatens the ability of people to exercise their right to vote throughout our country.
The Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s program of purging voters from its rolls if they haven’t voted in two consecutive elections and then do not respond to an inquiry postcard about their residence status.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was one of four Justices dissenting in the case, and her separately written dissent emphasized how the history of voter suppression against many disenfranchised groups in our country led the federal government to pass the National Voter Registration Act in 1993. Justice Sotomayor noted in her dissent what the practical on-the-ground result of this Court’s verdict would mean:
“. . . low voter turnout rates, language-access problems, mail delivery issues, inflexible work schedules, and transportation issues, among other obstacles, make it more difficult for many minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot or return a notice, rendering them particularly vulnerable to unwarranted removal under the Supplemental Process . . .”
In these tumultuous times, when people with disabilities have seen efforts by Congress to decimate Medicaid coverage, take away health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act and to eliminate A.D.A. provisions mandating accessibility in public accommodations, it is imperative that people with disabilities have an unimpeded right to cast our votes—to protect our threatened freedoms.
What we are left with is yet another case of digging deep within ourselves and fighting for our rights. Even Justice Sotomayor concluded that it is now on us to protect our right to vote and not be arbitrarily purged from voting rolls:
“Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by. Today’s decision forces these communities and their allies to be even more proactive and vigilant in holding their States accountable and working to dismantle the obstacles they face in exercising the fundamental right to vote.”