Election Day 2014 is just around the corner and democracy depends upon you. As American author John Ensign once said, “Voting is the first act of building a community, as well as building a country.” On November 4, 2014, Americans will cast votes for every member of the U.S. House of Representatives, one-third of the U.S. Senate, nearly 40 state and territorial governorships, 46 state legislatures, and numerous state and local races.
Today, more than 1 out of 7 eligible voters lives with a disability, however, the voter registration rate of people with disabilities is about two percent lower than other Americans (2012 report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and Research Alliance for Accessible Voting). In addition, the voter turnout rate of people with disabilities is nearly six percent lower than other Americans!
Help bridge this voting gap by exercising your right to vote — make sure you are properly registered to vote in the November elections.
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In order for you to cast your ballot, the usual criteria apply: you must be a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 and in compliance with state laws on residency, felony status and mental competency.
Citizens in 30 states must comply with voter identification laws requiring identity documentation when voting in-person. An additional nine states require voters to include a photocopy of their identification when voting by mail or absentee ballot. If your state has a new voter identification law, know what you need to bring to the polls.
National Voter Registration Day is September 23, 2014. Visit the National Voter Registration Day website for more information on how you can register to vote and help promote democracy.
If circumstances make it uncomfortable to vote in-person, plan to vote absentee. One of every three voters will vote early or absentee and these votes — of course — carry the same weight. Learn more at online at Long Distance Voter.
If you plan to vote in person, look into your polling place’s accessibility in advance.
Polling place accessibility
Since 2002, The Help America Vote Act has required every precinct in the country to have at least one voting machine or system accessible to persons with disabilities, including those with vision impairments; access must be equal to the privacy and independence afforded to all other voters. For more information on voting accessibility, visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Despite legal obligations to ensure that people with disabilities are not prevented from voting, barriers unfortunately remain.
No specialized training is needed to begin a conversation about access in your community — just an amicable demeanor and willingness to work with local polling officials. If you have specific concerns, plan to visit your polling place before election day:
Many polling places are located in public buildings like community centers — visit any time. Call ahead to make sure you don’t interrupt other activities in the building (like school!).
Some polling places are in schools or fire stations where access may be restricted; contact the polling place in advance to arrange your visit. Explain who you are (a registered voter with accessibility concerns) and what you need (to visit the polling place in advance to make sure you can vote in person on election day) to gain access.
Bring along the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Checklist for Polling Places and make note of anything that you believe makes it difficult to locate or enter the building, or to cast a ballot (include areas near the polling place such as the parking lot and access-ways to the building). If things need attention or adjustment prior to election day, approach your local polling officials with a positive and collaborative attitude.