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What the Disability Community Should Know About Voting in the U.S. Presidential Election

If you are a member of the disability community, finding an accessible way to vote may be as complicated and stressful as deciding who you are going to vote for or talking about politics with your family. The disability community deserves better access to voting because, among those who do vote, there are still barriers.

Contributor Denise Reich wrote about her experience voting at an inaccessible polling place as a woman with a disability for The Mighty:

I immediately surveyed the area for the ramp or elevator, because I assumed there had to be one… and I found nothing. My voter information booklet had no information on what to do if one’s polling place was inaccessible. Thus, I waited near the flight of stairs until someone emerged, and asked them if they would be kind enough to get a pollworker for me.

More disabled people are voting in American elections, with a report from Rutgers University finding that voter turnout was 8.5% higher among Americans with disabilities in the 2018 midterms than in the 2014 midterms. To help make voting in the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election a bit easier, we gathered resources to help the disability community learn about their rights as voters and lists of groups that help disabled voters.

Know Your Rights

According to the Federal Voting Rights Card from the U.S. Election Assistance Committee, voters with disabilities have the right to vote privately and independently, and have an accessible polling place with voting machines for voters with disabilities. There are many laws in place that protect the disability community’s right and access to voting in U.S. elections. Below you can learn more about how each of these laws protects disabled voters from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that provides protections to people with disabilities that are similar to protections provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments (“public entities”) to ensure that people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote. The ADA’s provisions apply to all aspects of voting, including voter registration, site selection and the casting of ballots, whether on Election Day or during an early voting process.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) also contains provisions relevant to the voting rights of people with disabilities. The VRA requires election officials to allow a voter who is blind or has another disability to receive assistance from a person of the voter’s choice (other than the voter’s employer or its agent or an officer or agent of the voter’s union). The VRA also prohibits conditioning the right to vote on a citizen being able to read or write, attaining a particular level of education, or passing an interpretation “test.”

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (VAEHA) requires accessible polling places in federal elections for elderly individuals and people with disabilities. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, voters must be provided an alternate means of voting on Election Day.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) aims, among other things, to increase the historically low registration rates of persons with disabilities. The NVRA requires all offices that provide public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities to also provide the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires jurisdictions responsible for conducting federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for persons with disabilities at each polling place in federal elections. The accessible voting system must provide the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence, that other voters receive.

Disabled voters may also seek assistance from poll workers who have been trained to use accessible voting machines or bring someone to help you vote. For more information to help ensure your right to accessible elections, you can call U.S. Election Assistance Committee at 866-747-1741 or email them at [email protected]

This document from the American Bar Association also contains information about individual state provisions regarding voting from states’ constitutions, election laws and guardianship statuses.

In-Person Voting

Many jurisdictions have returned to paper ballots over cybersecurity concerns. However, paper ballots can be inaccessible for voters with disabilities. According to a United States Government Accountability Office report from October 2017, two-thirds of 137 polling places on Election Day in 2016 had some sort of inaccessibility issue for disabled voters, whether only having paper ballots or another issue.

If you are a poll worker who wants to make your voting location more accessible, you can check out these resources from the ADA:

Mail-in-Voting

Blind U.S. Voters are suing over the inaccessibility of paper ballots across the country, including mail-in ballots.  The American Civil Liberties Union recommends that states allow voters to receive their ballots electronically. They wrote:

Electronic ballot marking allows voters with “print” disabilities (including those with visual impairments) to read and mark their ballot using the accessibility features on their personal devices. Commonly used assistive technologies include screen readers, digital magnifiers, and text-to-speech software.

Here is each states’ policy about the electronic transmission of ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

  • Arizona, Colorado and North Dakota allow people to transmit their ballots through a web-based portal. Missouri only offers electronic ballot return for military voters serving in a “hostile zone.”
  • West Virginia offers a mobile voting application. More information on the pilot project can be found in this video from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.
  • Nineteen states and D.C. allow some voters to return ballots via email or fax. These states are Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.
  • Alaska, California, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Texas allow some voters to return their ballots via fax.
  • Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming do not allow electronic transmission of ballots.

More Resources

The organizations, foundations and groups below may also be helpful for voters with disabilities who are navigating ways to vote in an accessible manner.

Initiatives by State

You can check the resources provided in individual states below for voters with disabilities, partially curated by Nonprofit VOTE.

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Washington, D.C.

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

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