Texas Legislature Second Special Session: SB 1 Makes it Difficult for Texans With Disabilities to Vote

The Arc of Texas Manager of Public Policy & Advocacy Alex Cogan provided in-person testimony to the Senate State Affairs Committee on August 9, 2021, in opposition of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

Read the written testimony The Arc of Texas provided to the committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on SB 1, a bill The Arc of Texas opposes, as it puts voting rights for people with disabilities in jeopardy. My name is Alex Cogan, and I am Manager of Public Policy and Advocacy for The Arc of Texas. The Arc of Texas promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and this includes ensuring Texans with disabilities can vote privately and independently with proper access, accommodations, and support.

There are multiple provisions in SB 1 that specifically interfere with the ability of Texans with disabilities to participate in the democratic process, a direct counter to the election integrity and security bill that authors claim is the purpose of the legislation. Access to the electoral process for all eligible Texas voters, which includes people with IDD, is something every Texan, and specifically every elected legislator, should seek. We know that public confidence in our democratic system requires that all eligible voters can participate in the process and have their vote counted. But that public confidence is waning when bills like SB1 are fast-tracked through the process with little to no opportunity for the public, and most importantly people with disabilities, to provide comments.

The Arc of Texas opposes the below provisions in SB 1 because they infringe on the civil rights of Texans with disabilities and their ability to vote. The added requirements and enhanced penalties to people with disabilities and the supporters they select to assist them fundamentally discourages the participation of those with disabilities to vote with accommodations and supports. This is not only immoral, but it is also illegal.

Section 4.11, Inhibits Texans without a consistent signature from voting

This section penalizes individuals with neurological disabilities. Allowing a signature verification committee to use any known signature as comparison for a voter by mail does not take into account the reality of some Texans with disabilities, whose signature can change due to their disability. For example, people with cerebral palsy, visual impairments, and/or other disabilities frequently do not sign their name consistently because it is physically an impossible request to fulfill.

Section 4.01, Limits the use of signature accommodations

This section requires a signature to be “ink on paper,” which does not allow Texans with disabilities to utilize a reasonable accommodation through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Again, this provision does not take into account the reality of voters with disabilities’ actual support needs. For example, some individuals may not have the ability to hold a pen or the dexterity to traditionally sign so they may require the use of a signature stamp.

Sections 5.03 and 5.04, Adds unnecessary and excessive requirements for individuals who assist voters with disabilities

These sections require people who assist voters with a disability to complete a form affirming that they “did not encourage […] the voter into choosing” the assistant. It is not uncommon for a friend or colleague to remind someone that an election is approaching and encourage civic participation and/or remind the individual that they are allowed to have an assistant, if needed, by law. In the case of people with disabilities who require assistance, the individual who is providing assistance may also be the individual who encouraged participation. We can all agree that the democratic process only works when those eligible to vote are able to participate.

These changes in oath complicate the voting process and lead to unnecessary confusion and the potential inability of Texans with disabilities to participate in the democratic process. People with support needs deserve the federal accommodation to exercise their civil right, but the added requirements foster a false narrative that those who volunteer to help their fellow voters are to be suspected of fraud instead of celebrated for creating a more representative democracy.

Section 5.05, Increases penalties for assisting voters

This section requires an assistant of a person voting by mail to fill out a new form with additional information about themselves and their assistance and will make any mistake in filling out the new form a state jail felony (unless the assistant is related to the voter).

These new provisions will create a chilling effect that decreases the needed support for Texans with disabilities to vote.

The above provisions do not consider the lived experiences of people with disabilities and the reasons voting accommodations exist. We urge the committee to recognize that all Texans have the right to vote as privately and independently as possible. People with disabilities already face barriers and discrimination on a daily basis, from public school inclusion to securing employment. We must not add voting to that list. As American citizens and Texans, voting is our fundamental right and must be maintained, but SB 1 falls short in maintaining our existing election integrity and security. At best, SB 1 creates significant barriers to the voting process and at worst, it is discriminatory against Texans with disabilities.

Please note that this testimony is a stand-in for in-person representation of people with disabilities, as this hearing’s short notice and the refusal to allow virtual testimony during a 4th wave of Covid-19 in Central Texas, created barriers for many to speak on their behalf today. I know we can all agree that people with disabilities should be included in developing policy that directly impacts them; they deserve a seat at the table to share their powerful stories. SB 1 has failed to do that. Not only has that table been removed, but safe access to the room does not even exist. So, on behalf of 3 million Texans with disabilities, we urge the committee to consider the detrimental impact this bill will have on maintaining a system of democracy.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide these comments on behalf of The Arc of Texas. We are open to continuing to work with the author to ensure Texans with disabilities maintain their civil right to vote.