In Special Needs News

Woman uses voting device at polling station for blind and visually impaired citizens.The right to vote is a fundamental feature of any well-functioning democracy. Not only do the citizens of a democracy need to have the right to vote, but they also need to be able to register to vote and then vote in elections. Too often, people with disabilities from across the United States have faced barriers in exercising their right to vote.

In some cases, this stems solely from outdated assumptions about their limited capabilities. Some voters who are blind or have severely limited eyesight have been unable to vote because they couldn’t read the ballot. Other voting locations have proven inaccessible to voters who require mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and walkers.

Federal civil rights laws are in place to prevent discrimination against Americans who need certain accommodations when voting.

Federal Laws Protecting the Right to Vote

Over the decades, various federal laws have been enacted to protect Americans’ voting rights. These laws include the following.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal civil rights law that protects individuals with disabilities. Title II of the ADA requires public entities, such as state and local governments, to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to vote as people without disabilities. This includes all aspects of the voting process, such as voter registration, voting site selection, election websites, and the casting of ballots. The ADA applies to all elections run by state and local governments, including federal, state, and local elections.

Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA)

The VRA requires election officials to allow a voter who has a disability, such as blindness, to receive help while voting from a person of their choice. This law prohibits conditioning a citizen’s right to vote on their ability to read or write, their level of education, or their ability to pass an interpretation test.

Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (VAEHA)

The VAEHA, passed in 1984, requires polling places in federal elections to be accessible to senior voters and voters with disabilities. If no accessible location is available, voters must have a different way of voting on Election Day.

National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)

Under the NVRA, enacted in 1993, all offices providing public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve people with disabilities must also provide them the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections.

Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)

The HAVA requires jurisdictions that administer federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for adults with disabilities at each polling location. The voting system for persons with disabilities must provide the same opportunity for access, participation, and privacy as the system in place for other voters.

Making Voter Registration Accessible to All Americans

Before a person can vote in an election, they must have registered to vote. To register to vote, people with disabilities can go to any office that provides public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities. These offices must provide voter registration forms, assist voters with completing the forms, and send the completed forms to the appropriate election officials.

Citizens with disabilities are entitled to the same degree of assistance with voter registration forms as with any other forms these offices provide help with. If such an office provides services for a disabled person at their home, the office must provide voter registration services at the person’s home as well. The right to accessible voter registration includes state, county, and city websites.

Regardless of a person’s disability or guardianship status, they cannot be categorically disqualified because of their intellectual or mental health disabilities. Furthermore, persons with disabilities may not be subjected to higher standards than those imposed on other voters when demonstrating the ability to vote.

Providing Accessible Polling Places

Across the country, voters cast their ballots in a variety of places that temporarily serve as polling places. Places such as schools, libraries, fire stations, churches, and other public and private buildings open their doors to voters.

To ensure that people with disabilities can access and use buildings that serve as polling places, the ADA has established regulations, including its Standards for Accessible Design, which identify what makes a facility accessible for people with disabilities. Election officials can use the Department of Justice’s ADA Checklist for Polling Places to determine whether a polling place has the basic accessibility features most voters with disabilities need. The Department of Justice (DOJ) offers the publication Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places. This resource outlines solutions to some common problems that may arise at some polling places.

To ensure polling places are accessible to all voters, the DOJ has expanded its scope of Election Day monitoring. Civil Rights Division staff members assess the accessibility of hundreds of polling places in states across the country. The ADA also has requirements pertaining to the accessibility of ballot drop boxes. The DOJ’s Ballot Drop Box Accessibility publication defines these requirements.

In some voting precincts, the only suitable polling place might be in a building that not all voters can easily access. In such circumstances, curbside voting can be a solution if the facility meets certain ADA criteria. Regardless of your ability to register to vote and then vote in elections, accommodations are available to you.

Learn More About Your Rights

Ensure you have an equitable voter registration and voting experience. Read more about the laws protecting the rights of voters with disabilities on this this ADA resource page.

You can also learn more about your rights and any legal recourse you may have against disability discrimination by contacting an experienced special needs planning attorney near you today. They can discuss your specific situation and your options with you.

For additional reading on disability legislation and voting rights, check out the following articles:

Contact Us

Send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search