DRC-NH Provides Election Committee Information on Ensuring Accessible Voting for People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic
The Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support was established by the NH Secretary of State to advise the Department of State on the use of the $3.2 million in federal CARES Act money dedicated for dealing with the pandemic during the 2020 elections. Disability Rights Center-NH was invited by the Committee to testify about issues specifically relating to accessible voting and ensuring that people with disabilities will be able to vote this fall. Our testimony covered three main issues that the pandemic has created for voters with disabilities: (1) preparation for voting, (2) absentee voting barriers, (3) barriers to voting in person. An excerpt of our testimony is below. Our complete testimony can be viewed here.
Paper absentee ballots are not accessible to individuals who are blind or have visual impairments because they cannot read the printed text that appears on them. Thus, to vote absentee, blind voters must rely on the assistance of another person to read and mark their paper absentee ballots for them. Such assistance strips the voter of the privacy of their ballot.
Accessible absentee ballots are required by federal law. Title II of the ADA requires that state and local governments provide voters with disabilities full and equal access to the same absentee voting opportunities that non-disabled voters enjoy. HAVA requires that all voters be able to vote privately and independently, but for many voters with disabilities to do so, their only current option is to vote in person. This is particularly troubling when voting in person means potential exposure to a deadly virus.
Absentee voting can be made accessible to those who are blind and visually impaired while still meeting the statutory obligation that a vote be cast on a paper ballot….
….Now, more than ever, people with disabilities must have the full range of voting options, including absentee voting. Accessible ballots are affordable, ensure compliance with all federal accessibility requirements and allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.
With careful planning and foresight, the state can make absentee ballots accessible for people with disabilities. Investments in accessibility now will benefit the state for years to come.