Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and should be accessible to all American citizens, including people with disabilities. There is legislation in place, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act, to ensure accessible voting methods in federal elections for voters with disabilities. Although these regulations apply to federal elections, many states use these regulations as a framework for local elections and even implement further measures to protect voters with disabilities on the local level. State by state voting accessibility information can be found at http://electionary.info/en/.
While federal regulations exist to protect the voting rights of Americans with disabilities, many violations take place across the nation during each election. These violations often affect people with spinal cord injuries (SCIs). At the polls, people with SCIs typically face issues such as inaccessible polling locations and the lack of accessible voting machines. These violations can be enforced by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division if a complaint is filed. There are also steps you can take on Election Day, if you encounter an accessibility issue, to ensure that your vote is still counted.
Through the ADA and the Help Americans Vote Act, you have many legal rights pertaining to voting. Knowing your rights and preparing properly for the election can ensure that your vote is properly cast on Election Day.
You have the right to register as a voter. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ensures this right by requiring that all public assistance offices and state-funded programs for people with disabilities must provide voter registration opportunities for their residents. Under this act, states are required to provide necessary assistance to those with disabilities who wish to register. All public voter registration sites are required to be accessible.
You have the right to cast your ballot at an accessible polling location. Under the ADA, all polling locations, including vote centers, early vote locations, and county election offices, must meet specific physical access standards. These standards include providing accessible restrooms; accessible parking spaces; a clear path of travel from the street, parking lot, and sidewalk for people with mobility devices; and other accommodations as needed for visual, hearing, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. This means that your right to an accessible poll location is enforced on both the federal and local levels.
You have the right to vote privately and independently. This means that you have the right to vote with or without assistance. If you do not need assistance while voting, you have the right to cast a ballot privately and independently. If you do need assistance while voting, you have the right to assistance from an individual of your choice. Assistance includes marking ballot choices for the voter, operating a voting machine for a voter, and reading candidate/measure titles to the voter. You can bring someone of your choosing to your polling location if you need assistance. Your voting assistant can not be your employer, a representative of your employer, or a voter’s union official. A poll worker can assist you in voting if you do not bring an assistant.
You have the right to at least one accessible voting machine in a federal election. The Help America Vote Act requires that all voting locations for federal elections must have at least one accessible voting machine available for use. Before the election takes place, each state must ensure that their accessible voting machines are functioning and that election officials for each polling location have been trained to operate the machines.
You have the right to request accommodations from a poll worker, political party affiliate, or any other individual without being questioned about the status of your disability. If you need an accommodation while voting, do not be afraid to ask a poll worker. All poll workers and volunteers are required by law to give accommodations respectfully without question.
Violations to voting rights occur every election, especially pertaining to voters with disabilities. If you encounter any sort of voting rights violation, do not leave without casting your vote. Polling locations are required to provide the means for all Americans, including Americans with disabilities, to vote, and therefore, these locations are required to provide you with an accessible means of voting.
If the polling location is not accessible (ie. if there is not a clear path of entry from the parking lot into the building), request curbside voting. Some states do provide curbside voting, and a polling worker can help you with this process. Remind the polling worker that all states are required to provide accessible methods of voting. If you are still facing trouble with location accessibility on Election Day, call the voter hotline at 1-833-336-VOTE (8683) for assistance. After voting, file an ADA complaint about the polling location at www.ada.gov/complaint/ or by calling your county elections office.
If you need assistance while voting and did not bring another individual with you, ask a polling worker for help. If you meet resistance, remind the worker that all polling locations are required to assist you in voting if necessary. Do not leave until you receive assistance. Call the voter hotline at 1-833-336-VOTE (8683) if you are struggling to find help at your polling location on Election Day.
If there is no accessible voting machine available, ask a polling worker for an accessible means for you to vote. Remind the worker it is required by federal law to provide at least one accessible voting machine at each polling location. If you are encountering resistance, call the voter hotline at 1-833-336-VOTE (8683) so they can find you a solution.
Voting while living with a spinal cord injury can be stressful, as even the thought of encountering an accessibility issue on Election Day can be nerve wracking. However, calling your county election office with any questions before Election Day is key to preventing accessibility issues while voting. If you have a question about the accessibility of the location, about who to ask for assistance while voting, or about your rights as a voter with a disability, call your county election office ahead of time. They are equipped with the knowledge and resources to help you cast your vote.
If you do not want to vote at a polling place, most states have the option of mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots are widely used across the disability community, as voting from home can be incredibly convenient for those with disabilities. Deadlines for registering for a mail-in ballot vary from state to state; call your local election officials to learn more about the process of registering as a mail-in voter. If you are registered to vote by mail, remember to adhere to all mail-in deadlines. Not meeting a mail-in deadline can lead to your vote not being cast for that particular election.
Voting is incredibly important to sustaining our democracy. All Americans have the right to vote, and all Americans are legally required access to voting, whether it is by mail or at a polling location. You have the legal right to vote, and there are regulations in place to protect you. Staying informed, being prepared, and asking for help are all important when it comes to voting with a disability.
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