Improving Ballot Access for Californians with Disabilities

A California law that went into effect in January improves access to the ballot for voters with disabilities. The law requires that all Californians be presumed competent to vote regardless of any disabilities.[1] Specifically, disqualification from voting may only occur during conservatorship and other proceedings if a judge finds that a person “cannot communicate, with or without reasonable accommodations, a desire to participate in the voting process” by clear and convincing evidence.[2] The law also permits reasonable accommodations to assist a voter in completing a registration form, bringing California in line with federal disability law.[3]

This is a ballot access victory for Californians because it substantially changes existing law to permit some residents to vote, where before they had been prohibited from doing so. For example, under the old laws a potential voter had to complete registration forms and certify that they were true and correct. If a court found that a person could not complete a registration form, the person would be deemed mentally incompetent and thus disqualified from voting.[4] Under the new law, people have the opportunity to demonstrate that they want to vote and may use accommodations to allow them to complete the registration form.

Many Californians already have benefitted from the new law. A former NPR producer made the news recently when a court restored his voting rights, which he lost after a traumatic brain injury.[5] Initially, the judge expressed concern that the injured man’s conservator’s voting preferences might influence his vote.[6] However, the judge did not find that the evidence available rose to meet the clear and convincing evidence standard.[7] As a result, and in a triumph for Californians with disabilities – more than 30,000 of which have lost their voting rights[8] – he was allowed to vote once more.

— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law

Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] Gershman, Jacob, “California Judge Restores Voting Rights of Man With Traumatic Brain Injury”, Wall St. J. Law Blog, Sept. 8, 2016,

[2] S.B. No. 589, available at:

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Gershman, supra.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Fessler, Pam, “Disabled And Fighting For The Right To Vote”, NPR, Sept. 4, 2016,