With all the discussion about groups of voters that potentially could be left out in this November’s election, one disenfranchised group has gotten less attention — disabled voters. These voters often can’t get into their polling place or can’t use their local voting systems. More than 34 million U.S. voters — one in six of all voters — has a disability. According to figures from American Association of People with Disabilities, in 2012, nearly a third of people with disabilities reported difficulty in voting, compared with 8 percent of people without disabilities.
Because these stories often fly under the radar, there are lots of opportunities for unique reporting and breaking news that can make a difference. Below is a guide to the laws, the issues and some resources for digging deeper on disability issues around voting.
Several laws cover voting accessibility and rights for disabled voters:
Americans with Disabilities Act: Title II of the ADA requires that state and local governments ensure people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote
Voting Rights Act of 1965 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.
Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 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.
National Voter Registration Act of 1993 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.
Help America Vote Act of 2002 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.
Inaccessible polling places: Everything from lack of accessible parking to the inability for people with mobility problems to enter a polling place, make it difficult for disabled voters. A helpful overview of what polling places should do is in an ADA.gov checklist for accessibility at polling places.
To find people who may have encountered voting problems, contact your local Center for Independent Living.
Also, don’t assume that data about accessible polling places is correct. Audits show that polling places that are tagged as accessible often are not.
Until fairly recently, blind voters needed to take an assistant into the voting booth with them to cast a ballot. Organizations representing blind voters have pushed for use of technology that would allow them to vote on their own. Every polling place should have at least one accessible voting machine. AAPD’s Jim Dickson is a great resource on accessible voting.
Poll worker training
Many of these problems are made worse, when poll workers are not educated about how to deal with disabled voters and what they must do to accommodate them. Paraquad, an Independent Living Center in the St. Louis metropolitan area outlined 10 problems with accessible voting, many of those related to lack of training for poll workers.
Lots of links and resources from AAPD: http://www.aapd.com/our-focus/voting/
National Federation of the Blind: https://nfb.org/
White paper from Ruderman Family Foundation on accessible voting: http://www.rudermanfoundation.org/the-ruderman-white-paper-voting-accessibility-for-people-with-disabilities
Tips for making voting more accessible from the Election Assistance Commission.
Accessible voting tracking from The Arc
@TheArcUS #VoteDisability #CripTheVote #ADA #REVUP
NPR on accessible polling places
Idaho Press Tribune: Federal review finds Canyon, Ada polling sites not compliant with disabilities law
The Atlantic: Keeping the ‘Mentally Incompetent’ From Voting
Mywabashvalley.com: Help for disabled voters
If you’re writing about disability issues, be sure to check out NCDJ’s Style Guide for reporting on disabilities.