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May 23, 2015 (Sacramento)-- A bill, SB 589, to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied their right to vote in California was approved by the state Senate today on a 27-10 bipartisan vote. The measure was approved as the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it is investigating allegations that the state is denying voting rights to these citizens.

SB 589, introduced in February by state Senator Marty Block (D-39), allows people with disabilities, who are otherwise qualified to vote, to complete a voter registration form and vote with reasonable accommodations. Under SB 589, people with disabilities are presumed mentally competent to vote, regardless of their conservatorship status, unless it is found, with clear and convincing evidence by the courts that they are not capable of voting. “My bill now places the burden on the state to prove that people with disabilities are not competent to vote, instead of placing that burden on the individual,” said Block.

“Many have risked and lost their lives for the right to vote in our country,” Block stated. “Yet five decades after hundreds walked across the Selma bridge at risk of life and limb to gain that right, we have yet to fully extend that right to those under conservatorship,” said Block. “Why should a disability mean disenfranchisement,” Block asked. “We should assume that citizens can and want to vote unless proved otherwise.”

“SB 589 would protect the voting rights of conservatees with disabilities,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the federal voting rights act we should be doing everything in our power to increase participation in our elections. This must include consideration of reasonable accommodations so that conservatees can exercise their right to vote.”

Block’s measure is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. Raúl Macías, ACLU of California voting rights attorney, added, “California courts have been quietly preventing people with intellectual or mental health disabilities from participating in the political process by making assumptions about their capabilities. We are proud to sponsor legislation that protects the right of people with disabilities to vote so that they are valued and integrated members of society.”

In addition to the ACLU, SB 589 is also supported by many disability advocates including Disability Right California, the Association of Regional Center Agencies, Disability Rights Advocates and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. There is no known opposition.