Contemporary Voting Rights Controversies Through the Lens of Disability

62 Pages Posted: 17 May 2016

Date Written: May 16, 2016


People with disabilities are the ticking time bomb of the electorate. An estimated thirty to thirty-five percent of all voters in the next twenty-five years will need some form of accommodation. Despite the significant and growing population of voters with disabilities, they do not vote in proportion to their numbers. We can consider voters with disabilities as “the canaries in the coal mine,” the people who are an advanced warning of the structural difficulties in voting not just for themselves, but also for the system as a whole. Solving problems in voting for people with disabilities will strengthen the entire system and will help improve the voting process for everyone, especially people from disempowered communities. Furthermore, although election law scholars have largely ignored the unique voting problems confronting voters with disabilities, virtually every major voting controversy in contemporary American electoral politics directly implicates issues of disability.

This Article examines the state of disability access to voting in the lead-up to the 2016 election, revealing an electoral problem that has been lurking in the background for far too long. Current debates about access to voting and voter restrictions often ignore the current legal landscape’s disparate effect on those with disabilities. The insights in this Article offer another angle of intervention towards ameliorating the problems in the voting process for disempowered individuals. This call for reform is timely in light of the upcoming presidential election. We tend to think of problems of voting and disability, if we think of them at all, as classic issues of physical access. But in fact, the contemporary problems with respect to voting that preoccupy election lawyers are also heavily implicated by disability as well and moreover are central to the inquiry. This Article reveals those hidden disability implications of our contemporary election law problems.

Suggested Citation

Belt, Rabia, Contemporary Voting Rights Controversies Through the Lens of Disability (May 16, 2016). Stanford Law Review, 2016, Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 2780693, Available at SSRN: or

Rabia Belt (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

Stanford Law School
Palo Alto, CA California 94304
United States
7343087252 (Phone)

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