Los Angeles County discriminated against persons with disabilities at vote centers in Pasadena, North Hollywood, Downey and Watts during recent elections, federal prosecutors alleged Thursday in a lawsuit claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The probe into the voting program found that the county, acting through its registrar-recorder, excluded qualified individuals with mobility disabilities and those with vision disabilities from voting, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged.
The complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court seeks a court order directing the county to comply with the ADA, promptly develop a plan to completely remedy the alleged violations and not further discriminate against individuals with disabilities.
In a lengthy response, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan disputed the findings and allegations in the complaint. He said that despite the county’s efforts to address aspects of the vote centers that are alleged to violate the ADA, federal prosecutors “abruptly” abandoned talks and moved forward with the lawsuit.
“I am disheartened by this action despite our good faith efforts to reach agreement on a reasonable settlement,” Logan said in a statement. “The assertions (made by prosecutors) do not reflect the voting model or service delivery provided by Los Angeles County. That said, we remain committed to addressing accessibility issues in an equitable and effective manner and will be vigilant in preserving the extensive work the County has done to improve access to voting, broadly, and specifically for voters with disabilities and other specific needs.”
The lawsuit contends the county is responsible for selecting and providing accessible facilities to be used as polling places or vote centers for federal, state and local elections.
During elections in June 2016, March 2020 and November 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office surveyed over 250 polling places and vote centers, finding that only a small percentage of them complied with the ADA, according to the complaint.
Allegedly noncompliant vote centers in Pasadena, North Hollywood, Downey and Watts are still in use, even though the federal government first alerted the county about accessibility deficiencies at the first three facilities in September 2016 and the Watts location in July 2020, according to prosecutors.
Other accessibility problems were identified with ballot drop boxes used during the November 2020 and November 2022 general elections.
“Voting is a fundamental right, and we will do everything we can to ensure that it is not limited or denied to anyone in our community,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. “Through this lawsuit, we demand that Los Angeles County afford individuals with disabilities an opportunity to participate in the county’s voting program that is equal to that provided to nondisabled individuals.”
The lawsuit was brought under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits public entities from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. The federal probe has focused on physical accessibility for persons with mobility disabilities and persons with vision disabilities at county vote centers during the 2020 primary election, the 2020 general election and the 2022 general election. Federal prosecutors say they also reviewed other aspects of the county’s voting programs, including curbside voting and ballot drop boxes.
“Voting is the bedrock of our democracy, and all voters, including those with disabilities, should have an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This lawsuit should send a strong message to officials across the country regarding the Justice Department’s firm commitment to ensuring polling place accessibility.”
Logan warned that the legal action “could result in a reduction in services and access for communities that have less resources to invest in infrastructure.”
However, he promised the county will “continue to seek resolution of this matter in a manner that advances improved accessibility and that ensures equity and fairness in the distribution and availability of voting locations for all voters.”