ACLU takes up assistance fight

ACLU takes up assistance fight

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is suing Secretary of State Steve Simon, alleging state voting laws illegally discriminate against Minnesota voters who need assistance casting their ballots. The case could have key impact on Minnesotans with disabilities. 

State law currently forbids political candidates from assisting any voters with their ballots, including in circumstances when the voter has a disability or language barrier. It is also a crime in Minnesota for one person to help more than three people vote, even if they have challenges doing so on their own. 

In February the nonpartisan litigating group filed its suit against Minnesota on behalf of four plaintiffs, who argue that these state laws violate the federal Voting Rights Act, which “explicitly allows people who need assistance to choose who will help them to ensure voters are not disenfranchised because of disability or language barriers.” 

Staff Attorney David McKinney told Forum News Service that the issue was brought to the ACLU-MN by disabled and non-English-speaking voters who faced barriers or even hostility at the polls, as well as community activists who want to help but are unable or afraid to. Other states have limits to the number of voters one person can assist, but McKinney said he was unaware of any so low as three. 

Asked about bad actors who could take advantage if these laws were more lax, McKinney said ACLU-MN’s case emphasizes the fact that whoever offers assistance should be up to the voter to choose — someone they trust, like a caregiver, family member or trusted community member. The suit is not challenging separate laws that criminalize tampering, persuasion or voter fraud. 

Among the four plaintiffs is St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao, who was charged in 2018 for assisting a woman who was having trouble seeing and translating her ballot. He was eventually found not guilty on all counts. 

Source: Forum News Service