Disability rights group suing Texas counties, including 3 in East Texas, for alleged violations of federal election laws

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AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) – A disability rights group has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that more than 80 Texas Counties, including several in East Texas, are violating federal election laws by not offering equal access to the ballot to people with disabilities.

Disability Rights Texas filed a systemic class complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on September 4. The suit claims that the voting websites on the counties named are failing to comply with federal laws because they do not offer equal access to people with disabilities.

Among the counties named in the suit are Sabine, Shelby, and Smith.

“County voting websites contain critical information for voters, including polling locations and hours,” said a press release from DRTx announcing the suit. “In light of COVID-19 and changing voter information, it is now especially important that all voters have equal access to voting information on county voting websites.”

DRTx said a report it released in July “shows that many Texas county voting websites are out of compliance with federal laws because they lack both critical voting information and accessible features which result in people with disabilities failing to receive the same voting information that people without disabilities receive.”

According to DRTx Sabine, Shelby and Smith Counties scored low on the organization’s county election website accessibility assessment. Sabine only scored 18 percent, Shelby only scored 16 percent, and Smith scored only 19 percent.

DRTx said that, following the report’s release, the organization notified each county of the individual deficiencies of its voting websites and requested the county let DRTx know of its plan to address the website accessibility issues. DRTx said it requested information on steps the county anticipates taking to ensure compliance for the county’s voting website and when the county anticipates completing the steps.

DRTx said it has committed to providing assistance and resources to counties to make these improvements.

The organization said many counties failed to respond to the demand.

“As a result, DRTx made the determination that additional steps were warranted,” the press release said. “This resulted in filing a systemic complaint with the DOJ requesting that the agency investigate these cases of disability discrimination and direct the counties to comply with the law by making needed changes to their voting websites.”

“Texas is facing unprecedented challenges during the 2020 election cycle,” said Molly Broadway, Voting Rights Training Specialist for DRTx. “The pandemic has increased our use of and dependence on digital information. Now more than ever, providing equal access to the voting process for people with disabilities through county websites must become a priority.”

The lawsuit is available on the DRTx website.

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