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Of all our fundamental rights as American citizens, none is more critical than the right to vote. As the cornerstone of our democracy for over 200 years, it reflects the people’s will and empowers them to shape public policy. Yet, despite voting’s crucial role in the democratic process, voter accessibility laws still fall short of accommodating people with disabilities.
This blog explores voter accessibility laws, how they impact U.S. elections, and how they affect people with disabilities. We start with a deeper dive into voter accessibility laws.
Great on Paper, But Not Always Enforced
There are several laws ensuring people with disabilities have voting accessibility in U.S. elections, including:
1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
2. Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA)
3. Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act
But despite the legislative progress, physical access to the polls still needs to be improved. And without equal access to voting, many voters with disabilities get discouraged and skip the process altogether. In short, accessibility in U.S. elections falls short of matching the laws supporting it.
Over 50 million Americans have disabilities, potentially the country’s largest voting population. Even a relatively small cross-section of this group could alter the results of a primary election, which is precisely how a democracy should work. Moreover, as the largest minority group globally (over one billion people), these citizens must have the power to influence laws through voting. Yet, policymakers still aren’t doing everything possible to ensure an obstacle-free vote for everyone.
But people with disabilities have urgent needs, and voting accessibility won’t improve overnight. That’s why it’s critical to understand your rights and how you can protect them now.
Three Critical Tips to Ensure Your Rights Are Protected
Voting with a disability has inherent challenges that aren’t always solved by well-meaning laws. So here are three guidelines to follow the next time you vote:
1. Learn the ADA regulations for polling places – You can review the regulations by visiting the ADA Checklist for Polling Places webpage. They lay out the standards for polling locations in plain English, so you can find the information you need quickly. Seriously, I was somewhat surprised about how helpful this site is. You can even do a page search on your browser for a keyword like “ramps” and find all of the solutions polling places should have for voters that require ramp accessibility.
2. Bring along the ADA’s handy Polling Place Accessibility Checklist – Ok, maybe the checklist is intended to be used by the people working at the polling place to ensure they comply. But it can’t hurt to be informed! Also, it’ll give you some ideas about what accommodations you should expect when you vote.
So, what if you’re on the other side of this issue? If you’re a public polling office, what can you do to help everyone have equal access to voting? Read on for helpful answers.
Best Practices for Voting Accessibility
1. All polling must occur in physically accessible venues, with barrier-free access to facilities, parking, and public transportation.
2. Ensure accessible voting machines are accompanied by staff members who know how they work.
3. Ensure barrier-free voting by mail through online sites with an e-ballot return.
4. Inform voters with disabilities of all voting options available to them.
5. Candidates must have accessible websites and materials, so all voters know their policies and can make an informed decision when they vote.
Voting is Everyone’s Right
Barrier-free voting is an inalienable right afforded to all Americans. Without it, the public can’t influence the outcome of elections and who’s put in power. And if we can’t help decide who has the power, democracy effectively fails. But unfortunately, not all people have equal access to voting, including people with disabilities—despite laws specifically created to give them equal access.
The massive gap between the regulations in place and the actual reality of these voting scenarios is striking. Much work is needed, but we have made significant efforts to equal the playing field. From heroic activism that drives new laws to public outreach efforts and rapid tech advancement, greater inclusivity is certainly within our grasp.
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Answers to Common FAQs
What ADA Title Applies to Voting Rights?
Title II mandates that all U.S. governments ensure people with disabilities have a complete and equitable voting opportunity.
What Does the ADA Consider Voting Violations?
- No wheelchair ramp to access a public polling location
- No staircase or walkway handrails
- No sufficient restroom accommodations or parking spots in a public space lot
How Many People with Disabilities Vote?
Over 60 % of people with disabilities voted in 2020, compared to 56% in 2016.
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