Voting in elections remains a fundamental right, privilege, and responsibility for each U.S. citizen. In the past, polling places were not always easily accessible to those with mobility issues caused by neuromuscular disease or other disabilities.
Historically voting rates for those with disability have been low in the U.S. The rate of those registered to vote are about 10% lower for those with disabilities, and those with disabilities are about 20% less likely to go to the polls to vote than individuals without disability.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, passed in 1984 in the U.S., makes accessibility a requirement for all polling places for federal elections. If a polling place that is accessible to those with disability is not available, there must be an alternative method for casting a ballot on the day of election. Further, this law requires that voter registration be made accessible to those with disability, and voting aides be made available during elections if needed.
In 1993, the U.S. National Voter Registration Act (also called the “Motor Voter Act”) passed, making it easier for those with disability to register to vote. This act requires that any office for state-funded programs that primarily serve the disabled population must have registration forms and assistance with registration available and also send the completed voter registration forms in to be processed. In most states, people may also register to vote at the Secretary of State’s office when obtaining a driver’s license or legal identification.
In 2002, the Help America Vote Act was passed in the U.S. This Act addressed improvements to polling systems and voting accessibility, and created mandatory minimum standards with funding to help states meet those standards. This Act also created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC provided major funding in 2011 for technology research related to the design of voting systems.
In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report looking at the accessibility of polling places in 2008, finding improvement to accessibility between 2000 and 2008. The major impediments found occurred in the pathway from parking to the polling system, a problem most often handled by offering curbside voting. All but one of the polling places visited during the GAO survey had an accessible system for casting votes.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies to voting. The ADA has published a guide to assist polling places with providing accessibility. The ADA announced new regulations for polling places in March 2011: Organizations had until March 15, 2012 to comply. The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) monitors compliance with these acts. Citizens can report unresolve violations of accessibility requirements to the USDOJ.
Today, federal laws require that polling places be accessible. As members of the neuromuscular disease community, we must make sure our opinions are heard through casting our votes.
American Association of people with Disabilities, (2012). Disability Vote Project. Retrieved from http://www.aapd.com/resources/power-grid-blog/disability-vote-project.html on September 9, 2014.
Muscular Dystrophy Association, (2008). MDA Quest ADA Roundup 2008. Retrieved from http://quest.mda.org/article/ada-roundup-2008 on September 9, 2014.
Muscular Dystrophy Association, (2011). MDA Quest ADA Roundup 2011. Retrieved from http://quest.mda.org/article/ada-roundup-2011 on September 9, 2014.
U.S. Department of Justice (2004). ADA Checklist for Polling Places. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/votingscrn.pdf on September 9, 2014.
U.S. Department of Justice, (2009). A Guide to Disability Rights Laws. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor64292 on September 9, 2014.
U.S. Government Accountability Office, (2013). Voters with Disabilities: Challenges to Voting Accessibility: Highlights. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-538SP on September 9, 2014.