Are People With Mental Disabilities Allowed to Vote?
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 20, 2020
Being diagnosed with a short or long-term disability does not directly impact your right to vote as a U.S. citizen, but your ability to vote could be affected by the state you live in and your state's rules. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), anyone with a mental disability who has an understanding of what it means to vote is allowed to vote in federal elections.
Continue reading to learn about whether or not someone with a disability can vote in a federal election in the U.S., what types of voting accommodations are available, and more.
Defining a Disability
The word "disability" is a broad term that can have numerous connotations. Disabilities can also be defined in many different ways, but many definitions include the idea that a disability is a condition that limits an individual mentally and/or physically, and may affect sensory, movement, and processing skills.
A disability could be anything from a short-term injury that affects a person's ability to think, move, and travel, to a long-term impairment that requires constant care from a guardian and/or medical professional. Disabilities do not discriminate around election time, and it's helpful to know your rights when the time comes to vote.
Can I Vote in the U.S. If I Have a Disability?
Voting laws in the U.S. have been changing since the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1776. At the time the constitution was signed, only a small group of individuals could vote. This group included white males who owned land and were at least 21 years old.
Now, voting laws are much different. The right to vote is given to all U.S. citizens who have not been disenfranchised (or stripped of their right to vote). But what about those with mental and/or physical disabilities? Can you vote if you've been diagnosed with a disability?
The caveat is that voting laws are still partially determined by each state. And states may have rules/regulations on things like incompetency and those deemed incapable to vote (as determined by the state).
Can people with disabilities vote in your state? Check your local election website for more details.
What Is the Help America Vote Act (Hava) and How Does It Help People With Disabilities?
Passed by Congress in 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was put in place to help with the entire voting system and voter access. Essentially, it created standards and procedures that states follow and continuously implement for federal elections.
So what exactly does this mean for people with disabilities? It means that with HAVA in place, standards must be met so that anyone who has the right to vote has an equal chance at voting on election day.
Here are some of the programs and procedures started by HAVA:
- States must keep databases for statewide voter registration (except in North Dakota where registration is not required).
- States must have processes for proper voter identification.
- Voter information must be readily available.
- The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) must conduct research to help improve elections.
- Voter equipment must be tested and certified.
Voting Standards From Start to Finish
HAVA is meant to help with all aspects of voting – from voter registration to voting at your polling place on election day. This means that everything from accommodations to specially-trained voting personnel must be provided and/or available if needed.
Accommodations for Voting in Federal Elections for Those With Disabilities
HAVA requires that states provide accessible voting locations for people with disabilities to participate in federal elections. This includes accommodations for individuals with mental impairments, visual impairments, and physical impairments, and accommodations for the elderly. If there isn't a fully accessible location, voters must be given an alternative location they can go to. Or, voters must be given another option for voting on or before election day.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established as part of HAVA in 2002. It is a committee/clearinghouse resource that keeps all the information and review procedures for HAVA. This includes everything from info on how federal elections are administered to voting registries. Essentially, it's a go-to public resource where individuals can get information on things like:
- Voting software
- Studies on election administration
- Implementation of voting system guidelines
- State and federal laws on voting administration
If you or someone you know has a disability and needs more info on voting or HAVA, you can use the EAC website to learn more.
Who Can Help Me If I Have Questions About Voting With a Disability?
Elections and the processes behind them are complicated, especially if you require accommodations or have concerns about your ability to vote. You'll likely find the information you need from a local civil rights attorney or an attorney who focuses on voter law. Get in touch with a civil rights lawyer in your area to ask questions and get information on voting with a disability.