September 14, 2000
The Honorable Bob Graham
United States Senator
2252 Killearn Center Boulevard
Tallahassee, Florida 32308
Dear Senator Graham:
This is in response to your inquiry on behalf of your constituent, xxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx, whose concerns were brought to your attention by The Honorable Doug Wiles, Florida State Representative.
Xxx xxxxxx, who is deaf, reportedly considered running for election to the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners. He decided not to seek public office when he discovered that the Florida Division of Elections would not provide sign language interpreters so that he could participate in community forums and debates. Representative Wiles inquired whether the Americans with Disabilities Act would entitle xxx xxxxxx to any assistance.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the programs, services, and activities of public entities such as the Florida Division of Elections.
The Department of Justice's regulation implementing title II provides that a public entity must ensure that its communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications with others and must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity. 28 C.F.R. ï½§ 35.160. A public entity is not required to take any steps that would result in a fundamental alteration in the service, program, or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. 28 C.F.R. ï½§ 35.164.
According to the information provided on its Internet site (www.election.dos.state.fl.us), the Florida Division of Elections has a variety of legal and administrative responsibilities, including, among others:
- overseeing the interpretation and enforcement of election laws;
- prescribing rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of election laws;
- providing advisory opinions to supervisors of elections and others;
- maintaining voter fraud hotline and providing election-fraud education to the public; and
- conducting regional workshops around the state for supervisors of elections, candidates, political committees, political parties, and others.
Significantly, the Division of Elections does not appear to provide any campaign resources to political candidates.
Under title II of the ADA, the Division of Elections must ensure that each of its activities is free from disability-based discrimination. For instance, with respect to its regional workshops and election fraud education sessions, the Division of Elections should provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services upon request, such as qualified sign language interpreters, to qualified individuals with disabilities for whom such aids or services are necessary for effective communication, unless doing so would impose an undue burden or result in a fundamental alteration. On the other hand, the Division of Elections is not required to provide auxiliary aids and services for other election-related activities, over which it exercises no administrative control and for which it provides no financial or other resources. Assuming that the Division of Elections neither administers nor sponsors the community forums and debates at issue, the Division of Elections would not have any obligation under title II of the ADA to provide auxiliary aids and services for those forums and debates.
It is the entities that hold the community forums and debates at issue that are generally obligated under ADA titles II, 42 U.S.C. ï½§ï½§ 12131 et seq., 28 C.F.R. pt. 35 (covering public entities), and title III, 42 U.S.C. ï½§ï½§ 12181 et seq., 28 C.F.R. pt. 36 (covering private entities) to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to qualified persons with disabilities, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the good, service, or program that is being provided, or would result in an undue burden. (1) For example, if a private entity such as the League of Women Voters were to hold a public debate among candidates running for seats on the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners, it would have to comply with title III of the ADA with respect to this activity, including the obligation to provide auxiliary aids and services to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would impose an undue burden or result in a fundamental alteration.
I hope this information is helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
Bill Lann Lee
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
1. Religious entities and certain private clubs are exempt from title III of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. ï½§ 12187; 28 C.F.R. ï½§ 36.102(e).>