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Posted by Andrew Forsman
The Right To Vote
With the upcoming election, it is important for people with disabilities to plan to vote. Elected officials have a huge impact on policies concerning disability rights and services available to the disabled.
Those who have disabilities have the right to vote and the right to have accessible places to vote. However, even after laws such as the American Disabilities Act, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, and the Help America Vote Act, there are still many polling places which have no ramps, too steep ramps, too narrow doorways for wheelchairs, or too narrow polling booths.
If everyone with a disability voted, this would be a sizable voting block that could strongly influence elections. But when people anticipate difficulties at the polls, they often will just stay home and not even try to go out to vote. They also may not have had an opportunity to register to vote. Voter registration often takes place when getting a driver’s license or registering a car for a license plate. If a disabled person does not drive, he or she may not have been asked to register to vote.
Accessiblesociety.org has an interesting article on this subject:
People with Disabilities and Voting
What if you wanted to vote but the polling place was locked? For many of the 33.7 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, this situation is all too real. Not because polling officials are deliberately blocking disabled people from entering, but because so many polling places are inaccessible. In fact, the Federal Election Commission reports that, in violation of state and federal laws, more than 20,000 polling places across the nation are inaccessible, depriving people with disabilities of their fundamental right to vote.
…. Polling booths are set in church basements or in upstairs meeting halls where there is no ramp or elevator. Or there is no disabled parking, or doorways are too narrow. All this means problems not just for people who use wheelchairs, but for people using canes or walkers too. And in most states people who are blind don’t have the right to a Braille ballot; they have to bring someone along to vote for them, and might well wonder if that person is really following their instructions. It appears that a person requires sight to have the right to a secret ballot.
Studies show that people with disabilities are interested in government and public affairs and want to participate in the democratic process. But because they are often locked out of the polling booth they stay home on election day.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act requires access to polling places used in Federal elections. The law also requires States to make available registration and voting aids, such as instructions in large type. If a State or political subdivision does not comply with this act, the U.S. Attorney General or the person affected by the noncompliance may bring action for relief in the appropriate district court. Complaints under this law can be filed with theU.S. Department of Justice.