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About Voting Access Rights

SUMMARY: Many different laws apply to voting rights for people with disabilities. Also, you can report voting problems.

Voting is a right of all Americans, including people with disabilities. As long as a person understands what it means to vote and meets the criteria to vote, they must be allowed to vote. Unfortunately, people with disabilities may face barriers when they try to vote. These barriers can be physical or attitudinal. They can also be policies.

Different people with disabilities have different needs at a polling site. One person may need a clear path of travel for a wheelchair, while another may need a large-print ballot. Another may need to bring a service animal even if there is a “no pets” rule.

Important Laws

Several laws address barriers to voter access for individuals with disabilities.

Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as amended in 1982) allows people with disabilities to have a person of their choice assist them in voting. The assistant can be a family member or friend. It can also be a poll worker if needed.

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 requires polling places to make registration and voting aids available to individuals with disabilities. This may include large-print documents, signature guides, and information communicated by TTY.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all state and local governments provide program access. This means that when viewed as a whole, programs, services, and activities (including voting) must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

[ Read: The ADA and Title II Public Entities; this article has a helpful section on voting rights ]

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires all polling places to have at least one accessible voting machine. Each polling place must provide access “in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.” This includes nonvisual access for blind or visually impaired voters through assistive technology.

HAVA also guarantees the right to cast a ballot even if someone challenges the right of an individual with a disability to vote. If this occurs, the individual may cast a provisional ballot. Later, an election official will determine whether that person is allowed to vote. If so, the vote will be counted.

Physical Access

Many polling sites are in buildings like churches and firehouses where physical access can be a challenge. Polling sites must remove barriers to access if possible. Each site should have an accessible path of travel from outside to the voting area inside. It also should have proper signage marking the accessible route. If providing a path of travel to the voting area is not possible, then placing an accessible voting machine in an accessible location in the facility is okay.

While some voters with disabilities may use absentee ballots in order to avoid physical access issues, this cannot be the only alternative offered. The US Department of Justice has created an ADA Checklist for Polling Places. Polling sites can use this list to measure and improve their accessibility.

Reporting a Voting Problem

If a person with a disability experiences an access issue on Election Day, they can call the Election Protection Coalition for guidance at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683). This national, nonpartisan group works year-round to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to vote and have that vote count.

If an individual with a disability believes that voter access discrimination has occurred, they can file a formal complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Section at 800-253-3931 or by TTY at 800-877-267-8971. At this time, the linked-to page in this paragraph includes an email address for complaints and a web link to an online complaint form.

[ Read: The ADA and Title II Public Entities; this article has a helpful section on voting rights ]

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