DOJ Sues Texas County Over Disabled Voting Access

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HOUSTON, Texas — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against Harris County, Texas, charging that election officials have failed to provide polling places that are accessible to disabled voters.

The federal complaint filed by the DOJ alleges that the largest county in Texas has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The county encompasses Houston and is the third most populous in the United States. It covers approximately 1,777 square miles.

According to the complaint, the county uses approximately 775 election day polling locations, and 39 early voting locations during each of its county-wide elections. The federal lawsuit acknowledges that individuals may vote by mail but states that doing so is “under limited conditions.”

The lawsuit alleges that there are many polling places in Harris County that have architectural barriers that make polling locations inaccessible to those in wheelchairs or with other mobility problems. There are also problems with access to voters who are blind or are visually impaired the DOJ urges.

In late September 2014, the DOJ sent Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart a letter regarding its investigation of polling place accessibility saying it had found the county in violation. The Department conducted 86 site visits of polling places used in the January 26, 2013 election for Texas Senate District 6. The district is predominately Hispanic and includes east Houston, and portions of Pasadena, Galena Park, and Baytown. It has been represented by a Hispanic Democratic lawmaker for decades.

The lawsuit also alleges that during the May 7, 2016 Special Election for State Representative District 139, most of the 32 election day polling places had problems with “steep curb ramps and ramps, gaps in sidewalks and walkways, and locked gates along the route barring pedestrian access.” This district was represented by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner from 1989 to 2016. Turner is a Democrat and is African American.

The lawsuit asks for a court order that would mandate accessibility improvements in all future elections to include training for poll workers and polling place site selection. The DOJ charges that Harris County failed “to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures” and has discriminated against individuals with disabilities.

“[M]any voters with disabilities in Harris County lack equal access to this basic and most fundamental right, said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “Our lawsuit seeks to safeguard the right to vote and fulfill the ADA’s promise of equal opportunity for people with disabilities.”

“Access to voting for all eligible citizens is a priority in this district, partially evidenced by the recently created Civil – Civil Rights Section within our office,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas. “This division civilly enforces federal civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act, among many others. We will continue to work with the Department of Justice and investigate and remedy such alleged violations to ensure all U.S. citizens are treated fairly and equally.”

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.