Can Someone Help Me Vote? 

Gain insights into the regulations that ensure voting accommodations for people with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and U.S. citizens residing abroad. This article sheds light on how to protect your right to vote through the inclusive electoral process.

Federal law dictates that during federal elections, all polling places must be accessible to disabled voters or else provide some alternative way to cast a ballot. The law also says that voters with disabilities and those with limited English skills can get help voting from someone of their choosing.

That means if a voter has trouble reading or English is a second language, they can bring someone to help them vote — as long as that person is not the voter's employer or associated with a labor union the voter might belong to.

Is Voting Mandatory in the U.S.?

The right to vote is one of the fundamental rights safeguarded by the U.S. Constitution. It offers eligible U.S. citizens the chance to participate in the electoral process. However, the law does not compel U.S. citizens to exercise this right. Be it federal, local, or state elections.

Voting ID Requirements

Each state has its own rules when it comes to voter identification requirements.

In 2002, the Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Act covers various matters related to elections. In particular, it sets voter ID requirements in certain instances. For instance, first-time voter registrants should provide either the last four digits of their Social Security number or their driver's license at registration. If the voter cannot produce either of these identification forms, they should show confirmation of identity at the polling place when they vote.

Types of Acceptable Identification

Below are documents that you can use to verify your identity at polling places in different states.

  • Driver's license or state ID card
  • U.S. passport
  • Military ID
  • Student ID
  • Employee ID
  • Paychecks
  • Utility bills
  • Bank statements
  • Concealed handgun licenses

Note the requirements may vary depending on your state's voting system. Some states may ask for one or more types of documentation. Also, some states may require photo identification.

Voting Without an ID

You may still be able to vote even if you do not have the ID that your state asks for. In place of the ID, some states may ask you to sign an affidavit affirming your eligibility to vote. Election officers may also ask you to give personal information, either in writing or verbally, at the polling place. In most cases, election officers may ask voters to provide their name and address.

Some states may ask you to provide a signature before casting your vote. It may involve signing the voter registration list or poll book at the polling place. Meanwhile, other states will let you cast a provisional ballot.

States may use provisional ballots when voters cannot show voter information on Election Day. This is often used when a question relates to the voter's eligibility to vote. The idea behind this is that it ensures voters are not excluded from the electoral process merely because of administrative error or oversight that can be easily corrected.

Voting Assistance

The person assisting you can help you through the entire voting process, including filling out your ballot. Most states allow one person to help up to three people vote. They may not influence the vote in any way. Similarly, they may not tell others how you vote.

If you need someone to help you vote, call on a friend, neighbor, or family member. If that's not feasible, you may ask an election judge to help you. Some states even have "curbside voting," in which election judges from the two major parties bring all the necessary voting materials to your car.

What To Do if Someone Is Helping You Vote

If you need help voting, tell the poll worker that you have chosen someone to assist you when you arrive. Depending on where you live, you might have to swear under oath that you need help because you have trouble speaking, writing, reading, or understanding English. The person helping you might also have to sign a form verifying that they will not tell you who to vote for.

Once you have gotten help voting, you might want to show your completed ballot to an election official to ensure the person helping you fills it out correctly.

Options For Non-English Speakers

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires polling locations to have poll workers conversant in any non-English language. In particular, poll workers who speak languages commonly spoken in that area should be available at the polling place.

In addition, the Voting Rights Act also added a requirement for bilingual ballots. As of December 2021, the Census Bureau listed 331 jurisdictions that must have voting materials written in different languages. The U.S. Department of Justice also requires all information written in English to be written in the qualified minority language. This covers not only paper ballots but also the following:

  • Absentee ballots
  • Voter registration
  • Sample ballots
  • Polling place notices
  • Instructional forms
  • Election information pamphlets

Options for Voters With Disabilities

When it comes to disability, voters cannot be turned away from a voting booth just because a poll worker does not think they're capable of voting. All polling places in a federal election must provide at least one voting station that allows accessibility for disabled voters to cast a ballot independently and in private. However, election officials must accommodate the request if a disabled person wants a helper in the voting booth.

Help is available from non-human sources, too. Your polling place likely has a voting machine that can mark your ballot where you choose. These machines display your ballot in large print, or you can read it while listening via headphones. The machines may also offer touchscreens, Braille keypads, or "sip-and-puff" devices that let you vote via a tube in your mouth. Those are alternatives if you have trouble holding or using a pen.

Some states have more resources available to help you vote than others. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission singled out Iowa for creating the Helping Veterans and Iowans with Disabilities Vote Project. That project aimed to inform Iowans about the available voting options. Also, to conduct training sessions for election workers.

Options for Absentee Voting

If you are outside the U.S. or your state of residence and cannot vote in person, you can vote through an absentee ballot. Absentee voting allows you to mail or deposit your absentee ballot at a designated drop box. Absentee voters often do early voting before Election Day.

Although the rules for absentee voting may differ in every state, you can often vote as an absentee for primary elections and general elections. This accessible voting method benefits U.S. citizens traveling overseas, stationed abroad for military duty, or dealing with an illness that prevents them from traveling to the polling place. The voter can request an absentee ballot from the election office at their voting residence. You can check your local election office to learn more.

When Election Officials Don't Know the Laws

It is possible that an election official at your polling place might not be aware of these laws. If that happens, ask to speak to the supervising election official. Many voting rights organizations have digital flyers you can print and bring with you so that election officials are clear on your right to have someone help you vote.

Seek Legal Help

Suppose you suspect an election official violated your voting rights. Or if an election official is reluctant to let you have assistance, you may voice your concerns to a civil rights attorney experienced in election law. A civil rights lawyer can help you better understand the voting system and ensure your voting rights are protected.

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