What Does Access to Voting Mean?
May 26, 2020
by: Joe Zesski
Program Manager, Northeast ADA
In a recent September 25 webinar, Access to Voting, I discussed some of the laws protecting the right of people with disabilities to vote, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help America to Vote Act (HAVA), as well as some of the recent enforcement efforts by the Department of Justice to ensure that right. Participating in elections is essential to being a part of the community. For individuals with disabilities, having equal access and equal opportunity to vote can be a challenge.
Physical barriers can be one type of challenge. If a county selects a voting site at a building with a curb but no curb cut, or a building with no accessible parking, individuals using wheelchairs may not be able to get to the door. If a sign protrudes into the hallway at head level with no cane detectable warning underneath of it, a person with a visual impairment may be at risk of injury. Election officials must conduct physical surveys of polling locations to avoid such potential issues. The polling site survey from the Department of Justice Is an indispensable tool for this process.
Communication access is also critical. Every polling site should have a machine that is usable and accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those with vision related ones. Such voting machines employ assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to allow people with all abilities to privately and independently access the ballot to cast their vote. In addition, the supplemental materials such as voting instructions or sample ballots must be made available in an alternate format on request.
All of this is designed to create as equal an opportunity to vote for people with disabilities as for those without disabilities. Access means that the voter with a disability can participate in Election Day independently. Achieving this access is an ongoing effort. If a person with a disability experiences an issue on Election Day, a good resource to be aware of is the Election Protection Coalition. This organization is available to offer guidance at 1.866.687.8683 (OURVOTE). An individual can also file a formal complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Section at 1.800.253.3931 or by TTY at 1.800.877.267.