Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Imagine the privilege of voting being denied to you because of challenges due to disability or aging. Even people temporarily disabled through health issues might need help exercising this right.
Voting is one of the dearest rights we have as American citizens. If you need some extra help, federal and state laws say that you are entitled to simple accommodations that will preserve your right to vote. But many of our senior and disabled clients are unaware of this and need to be informed about the help available to them.
Four federal laws protect the right to vote for to disabled and elderly voters who have specific needs. Congress passed the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act in 1984 to provide protections for senior and disabled voters.
Under this act, elections officials are required, to the extent possible, to ensure that polling places are accessible to voters with disabilities. Every registered voter is notified on the sample ballot mailed to them by their county elections official whether their polling place is accessible. If it is not, state election officials must make accommodations for disabled voters as needed.
The Attorney General of the United States is charged with enforcing these provisions for all Americans.
Congress followed up by passing the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). HAVA goes beyond the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act by providing more specific guidelines for states to follow in establishing and maintaining accessible polling places, as well as minimum guidelines to follow in order to ensure accessibility.
Under HAVA, all 50 states and American territories must have a plan to carry out the provisions in HAVA and the Voting Accessibility Act.
In preparing to vote, if a voter cannot read his or her Voter Information Guide, there are large print and audio versions available from the Secretary of State’s office in your home state.
In many states, any voter who needs help in casting a ballot is entitled to request assistance. For example, in California a pollworker can provide assistance or the voter may select a person of his or her choice. If you are unable to mark your ballot yourself, you may select up to two people to help you cast your vote. The persons may not be your employer, your employer’s agent or your labor union leader or agent.
You have the right to request an absentee or mail ballot right up to Election Day. You also have the right to curbside voting if you cannot go into the polls.
The law requires that everyone who works in a polling place on Election Day receive training, including instruction on the rights of voters with disabilities.
What a horrible shame if our communities were to lose out on the years of wisdom and experience that could help guide us when older voters are unable to cast their ballot. Throughout our nation’s history, men and women have fought to guarantee the right to vote to us. Many of them died for this right and we honor them when we cast our ballot. Please check in with family, friends, and neighbors who might need help voting and be sure that our wise older American voices are counted.
Today, there are 36 million adults age 65 and over in the United States. This population is expected to nearly double nationally and statewide over the next 30 years. With an increasing average life expectancy for Americans reaching over 75 years of age, the need for voting accessibility will only increase.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!