SAN DIEGO — A California judge ruled that a former NPR producer who had a traumatic brain injury has so far failed to demonstrate he is qualified to vote despite a new state law that makes it easier for people with developmental disabilities to keep and restore the right to cast a ballot.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Julia C. Kelety held out the possibility that she will eventually decide that David Rector can vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election. But the judge said Rector’s conservator and fiancee, Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, needed to provide more information to prove that is what he wants.
Rector, 66, was disqualified from voting in 2011, two years after a brain injury left him unable to walk or speak.
“From the record now before the court, it has not yet been established that Mr. Rector should retain his right to vote,” Kelety wrote in an order dated Monday.
Under the California law that took effect Jan. 1, people with disabilities who are assigned conservators to manage their financial and other affairs keep the right to vote unless a court finds “clear and convincing evidence” that they cannot express a desire to exercise it.
The Spectrum Institute, which advocates for people with disabilities, highlighted Rector’s case in a petition to the U.S. Justice Department to require California to notify people who have been disqualified from voting about the law in time for the November election. Thomas Coleman, the institute’s legal director, estimates that 32,000 people may have lost voting rights in California.
Judge Kelety acknowledged the new standard but was unconvinced that Rector met it. She wrote that Rector is “typically described as being incapable of verbal communication” and that it was “less clear” if he can communicate non-verbally.
Coleman said he was optimistic the judge will restore Rector’s rights within a week, after she gets additional evidence.
Rector communicates with electronic devices, using his thumb or eye-tracking software to indicate what he wants, Alexander-Kasparik said.
His petition to vote says he can think, feel, comprehend, remember, see, hear and express emotions. During a recent interview, he cried out when his fiancee described his injury.
Alexander-Kasparik expressed disappointment with the ruling on voting.
“At the very best, we have some more delay. At the very worst, it’s another way to disenfranchise David in this election and every one after,” she said.