One in five people in the United States who are eligible to vote has a disability, with 16 million people with disabilities voting in the 2016 election. In order to ensure that this powerful voting bloc has access to the election process, several laws have been passed that improve accessibility, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act.
Generally speaking, voters with disabilities have the right to vote privately and independently, in an accessible polling location, with any necessary assistance made available.
Assistance—People with disabilities may bring someone to help them vote, or may ask for assistance from precinct election officials. In fact, anyone can help a person with a disability vote, except for the person’s employer, an agent of the employer, an agent of the person’s union, or any candidate whose name appears on the ballot in the voters’ precinct. However, no one can tell a voter how to mark the ballot or to provide information to others on how the person voted.
Accessibility—State and federal law requires that voters with disabilities be given the same opportunity for access to and participation in elections, just as any other voter. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities from receiving unequal treatment within state and local government services, programs, and activities. Specifically, in terms of voting, this law protects the right to vote by ensuring voters with disabilities have access to:
- Accessible parking;
- Accessible route to entrance;
- Accessible entrance;
- Accessible route to voting area;
- Voting procedures; and
- Accessible voting machines.
Moreover, the Help American Vote Act requires that each polling location have one voting machine that is accessible to people with disabilities, including non-visual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired. Curbside voting is available at any polling place that is exempt from the accessibility requirements.
Eligibility—People who have a guardian are allowed to vote, as long as they meet eligibility requirements and have not been declared incompetent for voting purposes by a probate court. A drivers’ license is not required to vote, although all voters must bring acceptable identification to the polls.
Accommodations—A voter with a disability who does not have a traditional signature may make an “X” in place of the signature or use assistive technology or augmentative device to affix a signature, as long as it is witnessed by someone and that person also signs the form. And while a Power of Attorney is not able to sign a person’s name to voter registration form, an “attorney-in-fact” can be appointed to sign a voter registration application on a person with disabilities behalf, but only at the person’s direction and in their presence.
Absentee—If a person with a disability is confined to a public or private institution, like a nursing home or residential care facility, the county board of elections can deliver a ballot to the person or they may vote via absentee ballot. All absentee ballots that are received on-time and that meet legal requirements will be counted and included in election returns.
People with disabilities have a stake in the election process, and the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal legislation ensures that they are fully empowered to exercise their basic—and vital—right to vote.