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Voters with disabilities face new barriers over Texas voting law
Austin
   
 
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(CN) — Amy Litzinger votes in every election, even if sometimes she needs a little extra help.

Born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, the 34-year-old Austin resident runs into challenges that able-bodied voters might not even consider.

To get to a polling place, Litzinger, who doesn't drive, needs a van capable of transporting her wheelchair. When she arrives, she might need help with tasks like opening doors or getting out her ID.

Once in the voting booth, she needs help inserting her Scantron voting sheet, getting it out and putting it into a ballot box.

“I don’t know why they make those boxes so high,” Litzinger said in an interview, “but I can’t reach them in my chair.”

Now, like other Texas voters with disabilities, Litzinger worries challenges like these could get even worse in the 2022 midterms. That’s after the Texas Legislature last year passed a sweeping new election-security law.

The law, Senate Bill 1, came in the wake of unfounded conspiracies about dead voters and rigged voting machines in the 2020 election. Supporters, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, argue it's necessary to ensure “trust and confidence in our elections.”

That’s not how critics see it. In a massive lawsuit that started before SB 1 became law, civil and voting rights groups say the law imposes new barriers at the polls, empowers partisan poll watchers and criminalizes protected free-speech activities related to voter organizing and turnout. They've brought claims under the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution.

The law has prompted outrage not only in the disabled community, but among civil rights activists who say it could intimidate ethnic voters and marginalized groups at the polls. The U.S. Department of Justice has also joined the case, arguing the law will create "intentional discrimination in voting.”

Earlier this year, Litzinger submitted a deposition in the case. Because of her conditions, she stated, she needs help with both in-person and mail-in voting.

When it comes to reading the ballot and choosing candidates, "I know what I'm doing — but I need a lot of access help," she said.

According to her deposition, her personal assistants said they were afraid to help her in the 2022 elections because they were worried about being prosecuted under SB 1.

Litzinger typically votes in person, though she qualifies for mail-in voting and did so during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. It felt safer and easier. Cerebral palsy, which affects the lungs, is one condition that increases the risk of severe sickness with Covid-19.

This year, Litzinger is worried that if she votes by mail, her ballot could get rejected due to signature mismatch. While she typically has enough dexterity in her hands, "the signature doesn't ever match," she said. "Depending on how my body is feeling that day, it can look completely different."

She thinks she'll probably vote in person in November, even though she's worried about being exposed to Covid-19 at the polls.

"It seems to be safer than sending in your signature," her mother, Linda, said.

Litzinger agreed: "Having to go in and prove your signature kind of defeats the purpose of a mail-in ballot."

Compared to other Texans with disabilities, Litzinger says she's lucky. Her parents, whom she lives with, help with caretaking. They helped her get the ID to vote. Her family has a ramped van, which she can use to get to the polls.

"I’ve been lucky that I have people that are able to step in," she said, but "I know a lot of my friends have been really struggling." She wants to make sure their right to vote is protected, too.

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