Vote: It’s Empowering!
by Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center
With the Presidential Elections just a few short weeks away, now is the time to learn about your rights as a voter! Did you know that approximately30% of eligible Americans are not registered to vote? Some people forget to register, while others are unsure about the voting process; however, for people with disabilities, issues with accessibility may often deter them from voting.
There are laws that encourage and protect the right to vote for individuals with disabilities including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. HAVA, in particular, focuses on accessibility by requiring at least one fully accessible voting machine in each precinct for people with disabilities in federal elections.
Registering to Vote
The eligibility requirements to vote vary by state, so it is important to check with your local Board of Elections. In general, you must:
- Be a United States citizen
- Vote in the state in which you live.
- Be an adult, 18 years of age or older.
Once you have met the eligibility requirements in your state, you must register to vote. In order to do so, you must not have lost your right to vote and you must possess some form of identification.
There are a few ways to register to vote:
- In Person: Register at your city or town’s election office, the department of motor vehicles, or any public facility has been designated as a voter registration agency.
- By Mail: Print out the application online, fill it out and mail it in to your local board of elections.
- Online: The Arc offers one of many online tools to help people register to vote.
Also, find more specific information about eligibility requirements, deadlines and polling places available in your state.
Accessibility: Are the Polling Places Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities?
Accessibility means everyone regardless of their disability can:
- Get to the polling place
- Find a place to park. Are there spaces available?
- Enter the building. Are doors and ramps wide enough?
- Get to the actual booth without any problems. Is there a route to and from the actual booth that is free of clutter?
For more information on accessibility issues and solutions to barriers, check out the ADA’s website.
A person who is unable to make it to their polling place on the day of the election can cast an absentee ballot. Absentee voting consists of obtaining a ballot in the mail, filling it out, and mailing it in to your local board of elections in advance. Each state has its own rules, procedures, and deadlines for submitting an absentee ballot. For more information, visit CanIVote.org and access the “Absentee and Early Voting” section.
Voters whose eligibility to vote is in question must be offered a provisional ballot. Only a federal judge can declare an individual incompetent to vote; therefore, on the day of the election, if you are told not to vote because of your disability or if a poll worker claims you cannot vote because you are “incompetent,” ask for a provisional ballot. This ballot will be counted if the appropriate state or local election official determines that the voter was eligible and registered under State law.
For more information and a complete guide to voting rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, visit the bazelon.org website.
Voting is very important, so take it seriously and know your fundamental rights as a citizen of the United States. Do not allow others to dictate what you can and cannot do. Stand up for yourself and be proactive. The election is on November 6th, 2012. Be empowered and go vote!