LOS ANGELES – Following a lengthy investigation that determined the County of Los Angeles discriminated against persons with disabilities at vote centers during recent elections, the United States Attorney’s Office today filed a lawsuit alleging the county has failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
The investigation into the county’s voting program found that the county, acting through its registrar-recorder, excluded qualified individuals with mobility disabilities and those with vision disabilities from participating in the county’s voting programs. The complaint filed in United States District 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.
“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,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “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.”
“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. This lawsuit should send a strong message to officials across the country regarding the Justice Department’s firm commitment to ensuring polling place accessibility,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The lawsuit was brought under Title II of the ADA, which prohibits public entities from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. The federal investigation 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. The United States Attorney’s Office also reviewed other aspects of the county’s voting programs, including curbside voting and ballot drop boxes.
On May 16, the United States issued a Letter of Findings that advised the county of its findings about inaccessible vote centers during the March 2020, November 2020, and November 2022 elections; inaccessible ballot drop boxes from the November 2020 and 2022 elections; and the inaccessible curbside voting system. The United States advised the county that its use of physically inaccessible vote centers and its curbside voting system violated Title II of the ADA.
The lawsuit filed today in Los Angeles alleges that 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 United States Attorney’s Office surveyed well over 250 polling places and vote centers, finding that only a small percentage of them complied with the ADA, according to the complaint.
During the November 2022 general election, the United States surveyed 52 Los Angeles County vote centers to determine if they were compliant with the ADA and applicable standards for accessibility. “Each of the surveyed vote centers had non-compliant elements or features, including, for example, a lack of van accessible parking; wide gaps, abrupt level changes, and excessive cross slopes on designated accessible routes; ramps with steep running slopes and without the required handrails; entrances and/or exits that were obstructed or too narrow, lacked level landings, or had high thresholds; interior routes that had protruding objects; and voting areas with narrow routes,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit identifies specific vote centers in Pasadena, North Hollywood, Downey and Watts that 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.
Other accessibility problems were identified with ballot drop boxes used during the November 2020 and November 2022 general elections.
The lawsuit discusses difficulties experienced during the August 2019 special election by a voter who uses a wheelchair. This voter “reported feeling dismayed and frustrated by her treatment at the polling place and that she felt as if she had lost her freedom to vote privately and independently like everyone else,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit is part of the Justice Department’s ADA Voting Initiative, which seeks to increase accessibility for voters with disabilities across the country. A hallmark of the ADA Voting Initiative is its collaboration with jurisdictions to increase accessibility at vote centers or polling places. Through this initiative, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country have surveyed more than 2,700 polling places and increased polling place accessibility in more than 50 jurisdictions, including Kenton County, Kentucky; Travis County, Texas; and Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.
Assistant United States Attorney Katherine M. Hikida of the Civil Division’s Civil Rights Section is handling this case.
Information about the Civil Rights Section in the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office is available on our website. Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations to our office via email to USACAC.CV-CivilRights@usdoj.gov.