Photo of Ihaab Syed

Ihaab Syed

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project
  • Sponsored by Lincoln Heritage Life Insurance Company, The Ottinger Family Foundation
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school University of California, Los Angeles School of Law
  • Issue area Disability Rights, Voting Rights/Electoral Participation
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Nearly one in six eligible voters has a disability, yet Americans with disabilities are severely underrepresented in our political system, beginning at the ballot box itself. Existing voting access problems have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced a rapid re-shaping of our electoral process. This past election cycle, many jurisdictions failed to adopt voting procedures that accommodated the needs of or ensured the safety of voters with disabilities. Ihaab’s project uses a multi-pronged approach to help ensure that voters with disabilities—including those who are immune-compromised or otherwise at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19—are able to vote safely, privately, and independently. Her project also expands access to the franchise for other marginalized communities who would benefit from accommodations such as Indigenous voters who lack access to residential mail service and voters who would benefit from language assistance.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

  • Successfully went to trial in partnership with ACLU of Montana and the Native American Rights Fund to enjoin a law that effectively ended ballot collection on reservations in Montana and would have severely curtailed Indigenous voters’ electoral participation. Filed lawsuits with partners in Connecticut and South Carolina that highlighted the disproportionate burdens faced by voters with disabilities in light of the pandemic and helped pressure state lawmakers to expand access to voting by mail. Filed a lawsuit to end discriminatory purging of voters with disabilities in Georgia with the ACLU of Georgia and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
  • Helped ACLU and litigation partners intervene in two cases seeking to discard ballots lawfully cast by voters (including several voter-intervenors with disabilities): protecting the votes of 127,000 drive-thru voters in Harris County, Texas, and of nearly 7 million voters across the state of Pennsylvania.
  • Advised congressional staff in drafting the Accessible Voting Act of 2020 and the VoteSafe Act of 2020.
  • Developed Know Your Voting Rights content for the ACLU to use and distribute on a national scale, including contributing to guidance on how to vote by mail during the pandemic (consulted by nearly 900,000 voters) and guidance for election officials on how to support voters with disabilities co-published with the National Disability Rights Network.

Next Steps

In the next year, Ihaab plans to:

  • Continue litigating current suits to expand access to voting.
  • Develop additional litigation to ensure that voters with disabilities can vote safely, privately, and independently.
  • Work on federal legislation regarding online accessibility of electoral resources and engage in other advocacy at the federal level.
  • Continue advocating for accessibility solutions in jurisdictions that are not accounting for the needs of voters with disabilities.

Media

Let People with Disabilities Vote

100 Years and Counting: The Fight for Women's Suffrage Continues

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