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Voting matters for everyone! Options for Accessibility

Voting matters for everyone! Options for Accessibility

For most of us, voting is easy. We drive to our polling place on Election Day, walk in, pencil in our ballot and leave.

For our friends, family members or neighbors with disabilities, however, casting a ballot can pose challenges.

Thankfully, a portion of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) ensures that people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote. That portion of the law applies to all aspects of voting, including making polling places accessible.

What feels more all-American than casting a ballot together with your neighbors at the local polling place, often a local school, fire station, library or house of worship?

Who might need an accessible polling place? Some voters use wheelchairs, scooters or other devices, and some have difficulty walking or using stairs. Others might be deaf, have vision loss, or have invisible disabilities such as depression or anxiety.

Many local governments report that their polling places are accessible. However, the federal Government Accounting Office  estimated that in 2008, only 27 percent of polling places were accessible. This means that 73 percent of polling places used in 2008 had architectural barriers that made it difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to enter their polling place and vote!

As the Protection and Advocacy agency for people in with disabilities in the Cornhusker State, Disability Rights Nebraska promotes voting as a form of self-advocacy. We take steps to encourage people with disabilities to vote: 1) Our staffers conduct voter registration drives in places where people with disabilities work or live, such as in employment workshops, assisted living facilities or the state psychiatric hospital. 2) On Election Day, several staffers visit polling places around Nebraska to determine if the polling places are accessible.

All Nebraska polling places are equipped with a ballot marking machine called an AutoMARK that helps voters who are visually impaired or deaf to mark their ballots. Anyone can use the AutoMARK. In some states, election workers model its use by marking their ballots in front of other voters with the AutoMARK to ease any stigma associated with using the machine.

Nebraska has made efforts to increase ballot accessibility to all voters, including voters who are elderly, have disabilities, do not read or speak English, live in assisted living centers, long-term facilities or who are hospitalized. State law provides that all polling places must meet strict accessibility standards.

If you find it difficult or you are unable to vote at your assigned polling place on Election Day, you may choose to vote at a more convenient time and location, such as:

  • Voting early in person or at the county election office or
  • Applying to have ballots sent your home, hospital room, assisted living residents or long-term care address, or
  • Having a friend or family member (an “agent”) apply for your ballots and deliver them to you at your home, hospital, or long-term care facility.
  • If you need help reading or marking your ballot, you may request help from election officials, or you may choose a friend to help you vote.
  • If you do not understand the language spoken at the polling place or in which the ballot is written, you may use an interpreter at the polling place or place where you are voting.
  • If you arrive at the polling place but are physically unable to enter it, you may remain in your vehicle and request to vote curbside. Simply call your local election office, and staff will contact a poll worker at your polling place for you.
  • If you have a hearing impairment, voters may contact the Secretary of State’s office TTY at 402-471-7229 for answers to their questions.  There are several ways to contact the Secretary of State's office listed on their Elections webpage at  http://www.sos.ne.gov/dyindex.html

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Molly Klocksin is a Case Advocate for Disability Rights Nebraska and a poll worker in Lancaster County.

 

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