Voting Accommodations for Those With Disabilities in the U.S.

Access to voting is a fundamental aspect of democracy. Yet, for many adults in the United States who are living with disabilities, exercising this right is riddled with challenges.

This article talks about the voting accommodations designed to ensure that all U.S. citizens—including those living with disabilities—can take part in the electoral process.

What Is 'Disability' Under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment. Such impairment significantly limits their life activities. The definition touches on a wide range of conditions. These activities include, but are not limited to, talking, seeing, hearing, walking, and performing manual tasks.

With voting, the definition highlights the legal mandate for electoral systems to give access to all eligible voters regardless of their mental or physical capabilities. This means polling places should have:

  • Wheelchair-accessible places
  • Information in large print or Braille
  • Audio ballots or assistive voting technology for people with hearing or visual impairments
  • Accessible electronic information and information technology

Can I Vote If I Have a Disability?

Yes. Everyone mentally capable has the right to vote, regardless of their mental or physical disability. "Mentally capable" in voting refers to the person's ability to understand the effect and nature of voting. This includes their ability to decide on who to vote for.

Curbside Voting for People With Disabilities

Many states offer curbside voting. This benefits those who can't physically enter a polling location or can't use voting equipment, such as electronic voting systems. Curbside voting allows you to vote right from your vehicle. You can drive right up to a voting place (or within a certain distance of the voting place) and wait. An election official, such as a poll worker, comes to your vehicle and brings you a ballot. Check with your local polling place to get more info and see if this option is available.

Absentee Voting

If getting to the polling place is too hard, consider obtaining an absentee ballot and taking advantage of early voting instead of in-person voting. Generally, you apply for an absentee ballot. Then, you can pick up the ballot at your local election office or have one mailed to you. You may have to present your driver's license to confirm your identity and other voter information. Depending on state law, you can drop off your completed ballot at the local elections office at a drop box or, in some places, return it as a mail-in ballot. More and more states are allowing vote by mail.

Federal Laws the Protect Voting Rights

U.S. federal laws are in place to safeguard the voting rights of all eligible U.S. citizens. The laws particularly emphasize accessibility for voters with disabilities and equal voting rights for all. The key statutes include the following:

National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993

The Act requires state-funded programs and public assistance offices the chance to offer accessible voter registration for people with disability.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Act requires effective communication with voters with disabilities. This is ensured by requiring election officials to provide auxiliary aids or information in large print or Braille at each step of the process. This starts from voter registration to the casting of the ballot.

The ADA also contains provisions directing public offices to ensure that polling places are accessible to voters with disabilities. This includes following the regulations for accessible design. It also requires using the U.S. Department of Justice's checklist to assess and improve accessibility.

Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965

The VRA is aimed to address the challenges preventing minority voters from exercising their right to vote. Although the law concentrated on racial discrimination, its provisions also support people with disability by banning voting practices that tend to discriminate based on disability. The law also ensures that all eligible U.S. citizens have equal access to exercise their right to vote.

Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002

The HAVA requires an accessible voting system at each polling place. This allows voters to cast their votes independently and privately. It also mandates the use of federal funds to finance accessible voting machines that have special features. For instance, audio ballots and tactile buttons. The law also ensures total participation in the electoral process for people with a disability.

You can ask about accommodations for registering, voting, and more by visiting your local secretary of state website. Read more about the ADA's checklist for polling spots and accommodations. It can answer questions about accessible polling places, including accessible voting stall designs, parking, etc.

Recent Legal Challenges

According to a U.S. Election Assistance Committee survey, one out of five voters with disabilities experienced difficulty while voting. This rate is three times higher compared to voters without disabilities. The report highlights the challenges experienced by around 30 million eligible voters with disabilities in the U.S. This difficulty impacts their participation and civic engagement.

Anti-Voter Measures and Their Impact

In 2021, various states all over the country introduced anti-voter measures. Many of these measures made it more burdensome for voters with disabilities to exercise their right to vote. Included among these measures are the following:

  • Elimination of Election Day registration
  • Restrictions on absentee voting
  • Inaccessible polling places

There were even laws penalizing those who assisted disabled voters. This emphasized the challenges that disabled voters face when participating in the voting process.

Legislative Efforts for Better Accessibility

In response to these challenges, states took legislative measures to improve voting accessibility. For instance, Texas passed a law requiring polling places to have a designated parking space for curbside voting.

House Bill 3159 and Senate Bill 477 introduced significant changes. HB 3169 introduced an electronic system for voters needing assistance with mail-in ballots. This system allowed for a secure and private voting process. The SB 477 focused on improving in-person voting for people with mobility issues. The bill included provisions allowing voters with disabilities to skip lines and providing a designated parking space for curbside voting. These bills highlight the commitment to eliminating the barriers faced by disabled voters. It also ensures that their right to vote is facilitated and respected.

Have Questions About Accommodations?

If you encounter problems in accessing your right to vote because of disability, consider reaching out to a civil rights attorney. They specialize in ensuring that you can exercise your fundamental rights, such as your right to vote.

civil rights attorney can clarify your rights and assist you with overcoming the challenges you encounter when voting. This will ensure you can participate in the democratic process. Whether it's voting accommodations or accessible elections, a civil rights attorney can give you the help that you need. You can also check your local secretary of state's website for detailed guidance about voting accommodations in your state.

Was this helpful?