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 two weeks before the 2022 midterm election, it’s important for all voters – including those with disabilities – to understand their rights.
“Voting is the most powerful tool we have to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with elected officials. Each vote truly makes a difference in determining future public policy,” says Abigail Thompson, director of government relations and advocacy at Shepherd Center. “It’s crucial for voters with disabilities to know their federal and state-protected rights at the polls. In Georgia, the law requires counties to provide polling places that are accessible to people with disabilities by providing various accommodations. It’s important to remember that exercising your right to vote protects democracy and holds politicians accountable.”
The U.S. Justice Department provides information about federal laws protecting these rights in this online publication. 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. In Georgia, accommodations include things like headsets so voters can hear choices read to them, and large controls for people with limited mobility.
With some hotly contested races on the ballot, Thompson says voters should consider early voting or request an absentee ballot to avoid lines on November 8.
“If you do vote on Election Day, Georgia voters who are disabled or over the age of 75 should remember they are not required to wait in line between 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and instead can go to the front of the line and vote at the next available booth,” Thompson says. She also suggests being prepared for lines by packing supplies such as a snack, bottle of water, or mobile charging device and wearing a mask, which, though not required, is an effective way to protect against COVID-19 variants or other illnesses.
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.
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.
The easiest way to check your voting status and request a mail-in ballot is to utilize TurboVote.org, which 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 provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, multiple amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. Ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals for rehabilitation and the best in the Southeast, Shepherd Center treats more than 850 inpatients and 7,600 outpatients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.