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Your right to vote and polling place accessibility

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“Voting is the first act of building a community, as well as building a country.”
~ American author John Ensign

Overview

In the 2016 election, some 3 million votes could be lost because citizens with disabilities are less likely to vote (Rabia Belt, May 2016 Stanford News). Currently more than 1 out of 7 eligible voters lives with a disability.

In recent presidential election years, only about 60% of the eligible population has voted; the voter turnout rate of people with disabilities is nearly 6% lower than that of other Americans.

Whether you live with a disability or not, it is important to exercise your right to vote. Easily access registration, deadlines and voting information — alphabetical by state — here. While you're at it: Disclaimer: As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the National MS Society does not participate or intervene in any political campaigns for public office, endorse or oppose political candidates, publish or distribute statements relating to a political campaign, or donate money or time to political campaigns. Nothing contained on this webpage or communications should be interpreted to be an endorsement or participation by the Society in a political campaign.

Know your rights

Voting is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights and a hallmark of our democracy. Yet for too long, many people with disabilities have been excluded from this core aspect of citizenship. Read more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal laws protecting the rights of voters with disabilities.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”
~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Voter registration

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.
You can register to vote online and get ahead of the curve before National Voter Registration Day — September 27, 2016.

The voter registration rate of people with disabilities is about 2% lower than other Americans (2012 report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and Research Alliance for Accessible Voting).

Exercise your right: by mail or in person

Will you vote in person? By mail? Find out what’s required to vote in your state.

  • Citizens in 30 states must comply with voter identification laws (requiring identity documentation) when voting in person.
  • Nine states require voters to include a photocopy of their identification when voting by mail or absentee ballot.
  • Voters in the remaining 18 states (and the District of Columbia) do not need to provide ID documents when voting in person or by absentee ballot.
One in every three voters will vote early or absentee (by mail), and these votes carry the same weight. Learn more 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 people with disabilities including 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. But you can begin a conversation about voting access in your community with an amicable demeanor and willingness to work with local officials — no specialized training is needed.

If you plan to vote in person and have specific accessibility concerns, visit your polling place well before Election Day. Call ahead to arrange your visit. Voting places are often located:
  • In public buildings like community centers; you can likely visit any time. When you call ahead, find a time when your visit won’t interrupt other activities in the building.
  • In schools or fire stations where access may be restricted. When you call ahead, explain who you are (a registered voter with accessibility concerns) and what you need (to visit in advance to ensure you will be able to vote in person on Election Day).
Bring the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Checklist for Polling Places with you on your visit, and make note of anything that might make it difficult to locate or enter the building (include areas such as the parking lot and sidewalks/doorways to the building), or to cast a ballot. If something needs attention or adjustment prior to Election Day, approach your local polling officials with a positive and collaborative attitude.

Election Protection is a nonpartisan coalition formed to ensure that all voters have equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Contact: 866-OUR-VOTE or help@866ourvote.org

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