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 or other disabilities. Today, federal laws require that polling places be accessible.
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 (a.k.a. “Motor Voter Act”) passed, making it easier for those with disability to register to vote. Any office for state-funded programs that primarily serve the disabled population must have registration forms and assistance with registration available. These offices must also submit completed voter registration forms. In most states, people may also register to vote at the Secretary of State’s office.
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, providing major funding in 2011 for research related to the voting system design.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies to voting. The ADA published a guide to assist polling places with providing accessibility. New regulations for polling places were announced 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 violations of accessibility requirements that cannot be resolved with local polling authorities to the USDOJ.
In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report looking at the accessibility of polling places in 2008, finding that the number of polling places without impediments increased between 2000 and 2008. The major barriers found occurred in the pathway from parking to the polling system: This was 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 Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) provides information on political and advocacy issues related to neuromuscular disease. Staying informed on these issues will help you make your voting decisions. You can find the web address below this article to the MDA advocacy page.
The current election year, 2013, is not a major election year. There will be several special elections to Congress, along with state legislative and gubernatorial races in some states. Many local jurisdiction will hold elections in November, 2013.
To learn about the views of your representatives and senators towards health and research issues, visit the Your Congress Health website (see below): many have made their views available through this website.
Historically many people, including women, people of color, and those with physical and intellectual disabilities were denied the right to vote. Polling authorities can no longer deny this fundamental right. Make sure that you have registered to vote and vote in the next election.
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 11/1/2013.
Muscular Dystrophy Association, (2011). MDA Advocacy. Retrieved from http://www.mda.org/advocacy/ on 11/1/2013.
Muscular Dystrophy Association, (2011). MDA Quest ADA Roundup 2011. Retrieved from http://quest.mda.org/article/ada-roundup-2011 . 11/1/2013.
U.S. Department of Justice (2004). ADA Checklist for Polling Places. http://www.ada.gov/votingscrn.pdf . Retrieved 11/1/2013.
U.S. Department of Justice, (n.d.). The National Votor Registration Act of 1993 (NRVA). http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/nvra/nvra_faq.php . Retrieved 11/1/2013.
U.S. Department of Justice, (2009). A Guide to Disability Rights Laws. http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm#anchor64292 . Retrieved 11/1/2013.
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 11/1/2013.
West, N., (2012). Voting + Advocacy + Power! Quest, 19:3. Retrieved from http://quest.mda.org/article/voting-advocacy-power on 11/1/2013.
Wikipedia, (2013). United States elections, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_elections,_2013 . 11/1/2013.
Your Congress Your Health, (2013). Website. Retrieved from http://www.yourcongressyourhealth.org/ on 11/1/2013.