Alaska discriminates against voters with disabilities, Justice Department alleges

Voter rights experts point to state's size, weather as factors that can hinder voting

By Chris Benson

June 18 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Tuesday unveiled findings that suggest the state of Alaska allegedly is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide disabled Alaskan voters with needed access.

"For too long, people with disabilities have been denied the fundamental rights and freedoms that citizens of our democracy possess, including the opportunity to fully participate in the voting process," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department's civil rights division, said in a news release.


The federal government contends that Alaska allegedly violated Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA requires that states' voting services, programs and activities be accessible to American citizens with disabilities.

Clarke says the Justice Department "is fully committed" to enforcing the ADA, "to make sure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to vote, including by voting privately and independently like everyone else."


The Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990 under former Republican President George H.W. Bush, prevents any kind of discrimination against disabled people when it comes to access to buildings, voting or employment.

Specifically, it was alleged that Alaska officials select inaccessible polling places for federal, state and local elections, that the state fails to provide an accessible ballot for in-person voting and maintains an "inaccessible" elections website.

DOJ's Alaska notice came the same day the federal government filed legal documents in federal courts in Ohio and Alabama "to promote the correct and uniform interpretation" of voting laws guarding the rights of voters with disabilities.

A report following the Justice Department's Alaska investigation outlined: the state's "failure to provide functional accessible voting machines"; to provide polling places without physical barriers, like muddy parking lots or appropriate steps to allow voters to cast their ballot in-person; and alleged failure to ensure website accessibility where voters can obtain vital election information, such as voter registration forms, dates and voting locations.

A federal judge in 2022 ruled that Wisconsin voters with disabilities have the right to get the help of others to either mail ballots or deliver them to a clerk.


The DOJ opened the investigation after getting complaints from individual Alaskans with disabilities who alleged issues with voter accessibility.

Reports say disabled Alaska citizens allegedly could not vote privately or independently because accessible voting machines "were unavailable or did not work," and disabled voters supposedly had "encountered inaccessible polling places and that they could not obtain key election information on the state's election website," according to the Justice Department.

The Alaska Supreme Court in 2020 upheld a lower court's ruling to eliminate the state's requirement for absentee ballots to be signed by a witness, meaning voters who cast their ballot by absentee no longer required a witness to sign the ballot.

But a recent op-ed by two Native American voter rights experts published throughout Alaska indicates that external forces, such as the state's large size, are hindering factors to voting in Alaska.

"While Alaska holds many policies that make voting easy once you get to the right polling location -- like with the ability to vote with a Tribal ID, a fishing or hunting license, or an electric bill," wrote Barbara Donatelli and Denise Juneau in the Anchorage Daily News, "our sheer geography and extreme weather can hamper our ability to establish a precinct long before voluntary staffing and postal issues become a factor."


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