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.
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:
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.
The organizations, foundations and groups below may also be helpful for voters with disabilities who are navigating ways to vote in an accessible manner.
- National Council on Aging
- National Institute on Aging (of the National Institutes of Health)
- National Institute of Mental Health (of the National Institutes of Health)
- American Foundation for the Blind
- American Association of People with Disabilities
- Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
- United States Access Board
- U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Initiatives by State
You can check the resources provided in individual states below for voters with disabilities, partially curated by Nonprofit VOTE.
- Just Vote Arizona Disability Coalition
- Arizona Center for Disability Law
- Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council
- Your Rights as a Voter with a Disability
- Office of Protection & Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities
- State of Hawaii, Voters Requiring Assistance
- Hawaii Disability Rights Center, Protection & Advocacy for Voter Access
- Board of Elections Commissioners
- Equip For Equality, Illinois Voting Rights Project
- Advocates for Access
- Self Advocates Becoming Empowered – Go Voter
- Kentucky’s Office for the Americans with Disability Act: Disability Voting Information
- Maryland State Board of Elections: Polling Place Accessibility
- AARP: Voting Rights Upheld for Mentally Disabled
- Disability Rights Maryland
- Disability Law Center, Protection & Advocacy for Voter Access
- Massachusetts Secretary of State: Voting for Persons with Disabilities
- Michigan Secretary of State: Rights of Voters with Disabilities
- Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
- Disability Rights Michigan
- Vote Missouri: Voting Accessibility
- Missouri Protection & Advocacy Services, PAVA
- Disability Vote Project
- New Jersey Voter Rights and Accessibility Information
- Disability Rights New Jersey, Protection & Advocacy for Voter Access
- New York Disability Vote Network
- Center for an Accessible Society
- Center for Disability Rights, Inc.
- The Disability Voting Coalition of PA
- Important Dates, Disability Voting Coalition of PA
- Philadelphia Center for Independent Living
- South Dakota Secretary of State: Polling Place Accessibility
- Disability Rights South Dakota – Election Info
- Texas Secretary of State: Services Available to Voters with Special Needs
- Advocacy, Inc. Disability Rights Texas, Voting Rights
- Virginia State Board of Elections: Accessible Voting
- disAbility Law Center of Virginia – Voting Rights
- Washington Secretary of State: Voting FAQs
- Disability Rights Washington, Exercising the Right to Vote
- West Virginia Secretary of State: Voters with Disabilities
- Disability Rights West Virginia Voting Guide
- Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition
- Wisconsin Disability Rights: Voting Rights
- Developmental Disabilities Council
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