Three major disability rights groups in Georgia have joined the broadening coalition of people suing the state over its law that severely restricts access to voting.
The Georgia-based groups ― The Arc Georgia, Georgia ADAPT and the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) ― are the first disability rights-specific groups to join as plaintiffs in any of the pending lawsuits against S.B. 202. The groups state in an amended complaint that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by imposing barriers that discriminate against disabled voters and deny them full and equal opportunity to participate in elections.
“Voting is a fundamental right. Access for people who experience disabilities is generally an afterthought if it’s thought of at all,” said GAO legal director Devon Orland. “The change in the voting law creates new barriers for everyone but those barriers could be insurmountable for people who experience disabilities.”
— The Arc of the United States (@TheArcUS) May 26, 2021
S.B. 202 passed in the GOP-led Georgia General Assembly before being signed into law just hours later by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25. The measure critics have called “Jim Crow 2.0” implements new ID requirements for mail-in voting, impacting the 200,000 Georgia voters who don’t have a driver’s license or state ID number. The law also severely limits the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots, shortens the period of time between general elections and runoff races, and criminalizes groups for giving food and water to those in line to vote.
Republicans justified the bill by falsely claiming that it prevents widespread voter fraud, a lie that former President Donald Trump pushed after the state voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 general election, and Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the runoff races. Multiple recounts of the ballots concluded that the election was legitimate and that Trump indeed lost.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is running for reelection, repeatedly refuted Trump’s claims that the election was fraudulent. The defiance led the former president and loyal members of the party to punish him by including a provision in the new law that strips the secretary of state’s role as chief elections officer. Nevertheless, Raffensperger said he still supports the law of which the restrictions would mostly impact the state’s Black, brown, disabled, elderly, rural and low-income communities, as well as members of the military who use mail-in ballots to cast their vote.
Civil and voting rights groups are responding by fighting against the law through the courts. A lawsuit filed by the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise Inc. claims the law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The disability rights groups joined a complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among others. The complaint, first filed March 30 and amended on Monday, now adds that the law discriminates against disabled people on top of other marginalized communities.
“I served in the U.S. Army, giving my body and soul to defend our Constitution,” Georgia ADAPT’s Zan Thornton said in a statement. “Now, as a Cherokee Two-Spirit disabled vet, and as an ADAPT activist, I joined this lawsuit to make sure every citizen ― whether disabled, Black, Native American, Latinx, or Asian ― can participate in the sacred act of voting.”
Disabled people have rarely been considered in voting processes, specifically in Georgia’s struggle over voting rights, according to the SPLC. But those same people have historically had to fight an uphill battle of continuing discrimination and neglect in most areas of public life, including voting.
“Georgia’s voting process already presented barriers to people with disabilities and S.B. 202 has made the process even more inaccessible in violation of the law,” The Arc Georgia’s acting state director, Stacey Ramirez, said in a statement. “This lawsuit is critically important to the future of over 85,000 Georgian citizens with disabilities eligible to vote who have a fundamental right to participate in our democracy.”
Read the amended complaint here: