WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, July 11, a federal judge permanently blocked North Carolina state laws that significantly restricted voters with disabilities’ options for receiving assistance when obtaining and completing absentee ballots. Last fall, Disability Rights North Carolina sued North Carolina election officials over these laws, which limited voters with disabilities’ choice of an assistant to aid with requesting and filling out absentee ballots to their close relatives or legal guardians. The organization argued that the challenged laws imposed especially burdensome and unfair limitations on voters with disabilities who were patients in facilities such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes or rest homes since these voters were prohibited from relying on facility staff for assistance. The lawsuit claimed that these laws violated Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which explicitly prescribes that individuals with disabilities “be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer…or agent of the voter’s union.”
Earlier this summer, Disability Rights North Carolina filed a motion for summary judgment asking the judge to rule on its claims after presenting evidence that demonstrated why the laws’ requirements conflicted with those mandated by the VRA. In the opinion released on July 11, the federal judge granted the organization’s motion and permanently barred the challenged statutes from remaining in effect. In the ruling, the judge found that “[a]ll challenged North Carolina provisions are shown to be in conflict with federal law, and thus are preempted by the Voting Rights Act. States may not limit the federally guaranteed right of disabled voters to access assistance guaranteed by Section 208.” In light of this ruling, North Carolina voters with disabilities can now receive assistance from anyone they choose, not just a close relative or legal guardian, in future primary and general elections.