Complaint alleges thousands of disabled adults denied voting rights in LA County

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Disabled adults under conservatorships in Los Angeles County are routinely denied the right to vote, according to a complaint filed Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The Disability and Abuse Project filed on behalf of thousands of adults who are under "limited conservatorships," which are typically created when parents petition the court to allow them to make medical and financial decisions for their adult children who have a developmental disability. 

"Over the past 10 years, we say that thousands of people, maybe 8,000 to 10,000 people, have lost the right to vote," said Thomas F. Coleman, legal director for the Project. 

The complaint alleges Los Angeles Superior Court judges use literacy tests to determine whether an adult under conservatorship may vote. That is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The complaint also says judges deny these adults the right to have someone help them fill out voter registration forms. 

"Federal law says you don't have to be able to understand what's on the affidavit so we think that California law automatically violates the literacy test requirement," Coleman said. "Even if it didn't, people should be able to have someone assist them and fill out the form for them."

Stephen Thompson is a 20-year-old with autism.  He is one of the people who could be impacted by the complaint.  His mother, Teresa Thompson, said she was upset to learn that becoming a conservator to her autistic son took away his right to vote. 

"One of the items that I checked off (on a court form) was that he did not have the capacity to fill out a registration form and by checking that off, in essence, I was taking away his right to vote," Teresa Thompson said at a news conference outside the federal courthouse. 

There was no immediate response from the L.A. Superior Court.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice will receive the complaint, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Representatives with the Disability and Abuse Project want the Department of Justice to investigate their allegations and instruct the courts to stop using tests to determine whether a person may vote. 

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