Know Before You Vote: Federal Laws Protect Rights of Voters with Disabilities
Whether voting in person or by mail, get prepared to cast your ballot now.
With just a little more than a month before the 2020 general election, it’s important for all voters – including those who have disabilities – to understand their rights.
“Voting is one of our most important civic duties and fundamental rights,” says John Smith, director of government relations and advocacy at Shepherd Center. “Voters with disabilities should know their rights and expect that polling places will provide proper accommodations for accessibility. In addition to the federal protections, Georgia law requires that all polling locations be accessible and have poll workers ready to assist all voters. It is important that all voters know the issues and exercise their right to vote.”
In this online publication, the U.S. Justice Department provides information about federal laws that protect these rights. These laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.
For example, if the elevated stage of a school auditorium is used as a polling place, there must be a ramp to the stage, and there should be signage and/or a poll worker directing a voter in a wheelchair to that ramp if it is not in plain view. Also, the voting booth height must be adjusted to meet the needs of wheelchair users.
With a presidential election on the ballot, Smith says to be prepared for voting lines to be long.
“If you decide to vote in person, wear a mask to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and other illnesses, and make sure you come prepared with any supplies you need to help sustain you through a long line,” Smith says. “These might include medications, snacks, a water bottle and personal hygiene items.”
If at any time you feel that you have faced barriers in voting, including registering to vote, casting a ballot or accessing a polling place, because of your disability, you can contact your state election officials (typically your Secretary of State’s office) or you can file an ADA complaint here.
For voters who choose not to vote in person, Smith noted that options such as voting by mail and online voter registration make the voting process more accessible to everyone.
If you choose to vote by mail, time is of the essence. It is important to start this process as soon as possible to ensure your request is processed in time. Nearly every state has unique election laws that dictate their election processes, including how people register to vote, how they vote by mail (absentee ballot) and the timeline for each.
As soon as possible, you need to be registered to vote in your home state and request a mail-in ballot. The easiest way to check your voting status and to request a mail-in ballot is to utilize TurboVote.org, a website that connects you to your state’s election website and simplifies the steps required to register and request a ballot. While you can always go directly to your state’s election website, TurboVote.org can help streamline the process.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.