This online publication provides an overview of the rights of and assistance available to voters with disabilities, including what to do if you believe your right to vote is being violated.
- Federal Election Laws
- Ohio Election Laws
- Eligibility and Registration
- Voting Identification
- Assistance with Casting Your Ballot
- Absentee Ballots
- Voting Assistance
- Places That Can Help
A publication of Disability Rights Ohio
Originally published 2003; Reviewed and revised October 2012
Federal laws protect your right to vote as a person with disability. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (as amended) requires state and local governments to assure people with disabilities access to all government programs, services and activities. Therefore, Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to make voting places and equipment accessible to people with disabilities.
The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) further protects your right to vote as a person with a disability. HAVA grants money to states to improve voting systems for all voters. HAVA grants money to states specifically to improve voting place and equipment accessibility for people with disabilities. HAVA requires states to establish an administrative procedure to hear complaints and resolve grievances about voting rights violations.
Ohio's statutory laws on elections and voting are found at Ohio Revised Code Title 35. In addition, Ohio election procedure in regard to voters with a disability is governed by a 1984 consent judgment in the case of Glancy v. Morrow County Board of Elections. In that case, a group of voters with disabilities, represented by Ohio Legal Rights Service (now known as Disability Rights Ohio), sued a board of elections and the Ohio Secretary of State over voting rights of persons with disabilities. The Secretary of State agreed to certain principles and procedures in regard to voters with disabilities, and is bound to direct all county boards of elections to comply with those principles and procedures. Many of the statements in this publication are derived from that source. You may wish to download a copy of the Glancy consent order from the Disability Rights Ohio web site, and to take the text of that judgment along with you to your polling place on election day, in case a problem should arise.
You are eligible to vote if:
- you are a U.S. citizen;
- you are at least 18 years old on election day;
- you have lived in Ohio for at least 30 days before the election;
- you are not currently in jail for conviction of a felony; and
- you have not been found incompetent to vote through a specific finding and order of a probate judge regarding voting. (A general finding of incompetency and guardianship does not take away the right to vote; if the order does not specify that the person is incompetent to vote, then the ward may register and vote.)
In order to vote you must first be registered (at least thirty days before the election). You do this by filling out a voter registration form. You can obtain a voter registration form from your county board of elections or from the Ohio Secretary of State.
You can find information about your county board of elections in your local phone book in the county government section, or refer to the Ohio County Boards of Election Directory on the Ohio Secretary of State web site. You can ask to have a voter registration form sent to you by contacting the Secretary of State, or by completing a Voter Registration Form on the Ohio Secretary of State web site.
Staff from other government agencies or service providers, such as case managers, social workers, or client rights advocates, can help you in obtaining and filling out a voter registration form.
You must provide your signature on the registration form. If you are unable to sign your name, you must make an “X” if possible, and another individual assisting in completing the form must also provide his or her signature on the registration form as well as your signature. If unable to make an “X,” you must indicate in some manner that you desire to register to vote. The person registering you must sign the form and attest that you indicated the desire to register to vote.
After you register, the county board of elections will send you information telling you which voting precinct you will vote in, and the location of your polling place. If you change your residence, you need to notify your board of elections so that you can vote at the proper polling place for your new residence. Also, if you change your name you need to notify the board of elections.
If you reside in a public or private institution or facility, then the address of that institution or facility is your residential address for voting purposes. However, if you are presently in an institution or facility for temporary treatment purposes only, then your residence for voting purposes is not the institution, but the place where you resided when you entered the institution.
If you were registered in the past but have not voted at any election in the past four years or updated or confirmed your registration in the last four years, you need to re-register now to be eligible to vote in the next election.
You must re-register to vote no later than thirty days prior to the primary or general elections. If you are now in jail or prison as a result of a felony conviction, you are not eligible to register and vote. However, your right to register and vote is automatically restored upon your final release from your sentence, although you will need to register again. In addition, you may vote while on probation, parole, judicial release, or when you have been released on a conditional pardon or under a post-release control sanction. Please note also that an order of institutionalization because of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) or incompetency to stand trial is not a conviction and does not interfere with your right to register and vote.
When you come to the polling place to vote, you must identify yourself and provide proof of your identity. Proof of identity may be in the form of a driver's license, state identification card, or other valid photo identification. It may also be in the form of a military identification, a copy of a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or another government document (but you cannot use a notice of election mailed by the board of elections, or a notice of voter registration mailed by the board of elections). The document you use should show your current address. If a driver's license or state identification card does not show your current address, it is still valid; the precinct election official will make a notation that the address is not current. If you can identify yourself in any of these ways, you can cast a regular ballot.
If you cannot cast a regular ballot for lack of accepted identification, you can still vote by casting a provisional ballot. If you have a Social Security number and can provide the last four digits of that number, you can cast a provisional ballot without further proof or contact with the board of elections.
If you have no accepted identification and have no Social Security number, you can still vote by provisional ballot by signing an affirmation form provided by the election precinct officials. In this case also, you are not required to have any further contact with the board of elections. (If you decline to sign an affirmation form, you can still cast a provisional ballot but the ballot will not be counted unless you appear at the board of elections office within ten days and provide identification or the last four digits of a Social Security number or sign the affirmation form.)
If you have an accepted means of identification but you don't have it with you, and if you have a Social Security number but cannot state the last four digits of that number, you can vote by provisional ballot. In order to have the ballot counted, you must appear at the board of elections office within ten days and provide an accepted means of identification or provide the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Before casting your ballot, you will be asked to sign your name or make a mark in the polling book or poll list. Also, the board of elections must make reasonable accommodations in the signing/marking process, including, for example, allowing the use of any available assistive technology or device to help you sign your name or mark. If despite accommodations you are physically unable to make a mark or signature, you can have another adult resident of this state sign the polling book for you if you file with the board of elections a document authorizing that person to sign for you (as an "attorney in fact").
Voters with disabilities have a right to equal access to their polling location, and to cast a private ballot. Voters with disabilities who have complaints about access, meaningful accommodations, assistance, or other rights violations can contact Disability Rights Ohio.
If you want to, you may bring a sample ballot into the voting booth with you. If you need help in voting, you may bring a person of your choice into the voting booth to assist you. However, that person may not be a candidate on the ballot, and may not be an agent of your employer or your labor union. If you need help in voting but have no one to assist you, two poll workers will provide assistance to you in marking your ballot.
It should be noted that until recently some confusion existed in this regard among poll workers. However, a change in Ohio election law has brought state law on this subject into conformity with both federal law and the Glancy consent order (Ohio Revised Code Section 3505.24 ). This development should end any further misunderstanding among poll workers on this subject.
A person attempting to vote may not be challenged on the basis of his/her mental capacity. A person may be challenged only on qualifications such as age, residency, and citizenship.
All polling places must be physically accessible to persons with disabilities unless an exemption has been granted by the Secretary of State for good cause. You may contact the county board of elections to confirm that your polling place is accessible. (Refer to the Ohio County Boards of Election Directory on the Ohio Secretary of State web site.)
If your polling location is not accessible you can make a complaint to Disability Rights Ohio. If it is not accessible, you can require the board of elections to reassign you to an accessible voting location or to provide you another means of casting your ballot on election day. The federal government has published an ADA Checklist for Polling Places to help voting officials understand what makes a polling place accessible.
Persons who wish to do so may vote by absentee ballot. Please note, however, that the board of elections may not require anyone to vote by absentee ballot if the voter chooses to vote in person on election day. Note: You may also vote in person before Election Day. See Early Voting.
If you wish to vote by absentee ballot you must make written application to your county board of elections, which must receive the written application by no later than noon of the third day before the election. (Do not apply for an absentee ballot more than ninety days before an election.) Application forms for absentee ballots are available from the board of elections and from other government agencies. After the board of elections receives your application for an absentee ballot, it will either mail the ballot to you or deliver it to you.
If you are confined within a public or private institution within the county, and do not mail in an absentee ballot, the board is required to send two employees to you to deliver your ballot and to return it to the board. If you need assistance in marking your ballot because of a physical disability, the two employees will provide assistance to you upon your request.
The envelope containing the completed absentee ballot must either be received by the county board of elections before 7:30 pm on Election Day, or postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received by the county board of elections no later than 10 days after Election Day. The completed absentee ballot may also be delivered in person by the voter or an eligible family member (spouse, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandfather, grandmother, brother, or sister of the whole or half blood, or the son, daughter, adopting parent, adopted child, stepparent, stepchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece of the voter) to the county board of elections no later than 7:30 pm on Election Day.
The Court issued a permanent injunction ordering the board of elections and Ohio Secretary of State to make all reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who cannot travel to the county boards of elections to correct the deficiencies in their absentee ballots. Subsequently, the Secretary of State issued Directive 2008-116 outlining reasonable accommodations for absentee voters who are homebound.
Where can I register to vote?
You can register to vote through the Ohio Secretary of State office. To request a voter registration form, you must send your name, full address, and the number of forms you would like to receive to:
Ohio Secretary of State
180 East Broad Street, 16th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(877) SOS-OHIO (767-6446) x2
TTY: (614) 728-3295
TTY Toll-free: (877) TTY-OHIO (889-6446)
You can also download a Voter Registration Form from the Ohio Secretary of State Web site.
All mailed registration forms sent to the Secretary of State's office (or a county board of elections) must be postmarked 30 days before an election to be valid.
To receive general voter registration information, contact the Ohio Secretary of State at the address or phone number listed above.
You can also register at:
- any public library, public high school, vocational school,
- your county board of elections,
- your local bureau of motor vehicle offices,
- county treasurer's offices, and
- agencies that provide public assistance, including the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Mental Health, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, or the office of any state-assisted college or university responsible for providing assistance to students with disabiliities.
What if I move or change my name after I have registered to vote?
If you are already registered to vote and have moved within Ohio or changed your name it is your responsibility to update this information by submitting a new voter registration form or change of address form for your new residence. The voter registration form with your name and/or address change can be submitted by mail to the Secretary of State's office or county board of elections, or in person to one of the entities listed above. It is best to submit the form no later than 30 days prior to the election in order to ensure that you are able to vote a regular ballot.
Where can I get assistance with transportation to the polls?
You can call the local or county campaign headquarters of either political party or of a local candidate. They will usually arrange for a volunteer to take you to the polls. You can ask your case manager or social worker whether or not they can assist you or whether or not they know of a transportation resource in your area. You can also contact your local paratransit service and arrange transportation in advance.
If I am in a nursing home or other institution during the time when I need to register to vote or cast a ballot, what should I do?
Contact the client rights advocate or your social worker (this person also may be called the client rights officer or patient representative) and ask for a registration form.
If you are confined to a nursing home or other institution you may submit a form to request an absentee ballot that is available online, or by request from the county board of elections or by the Ohio Secretary of State. The county board of elections then must designate two of its employees from each of the major political parties to deliver the ballot to you, help you complete it if necessary, and return it to the board.
If I am in a hospital and will be on voting day and am a registered voter, how do I arrange to vote?
If you are able to leave the hospital, you can go to the polls yourself. If you need assistance with transportation to the polls, ask the social work or client rights advocate staff to arrange transportation. If possible, you should request transportation assistance before election day.
If you are unable to travel to the voting booth in your precinct on Election Day you may apply to the county board of elections to vote by absentee ballot in either of the following situations:
- you are confined in a hospital as a result of an accident or unforeseeable medical emergency occurring before the election; or
- your minor child is confined in a hospital as a result of an accident or unforeseeable medical emergency occurring before the election.
The application for an absentee ballot under one of these circumstances must be in writing, must include all of the information required in a request for an absentee ballot, and must be delivered to the county board of elections no later than 3 pm on Election Day. It must also indicate the hospital where you or your child is confined, the date of admission to the hospital, and the offices for which you are qualified to vote. You may also request that a member of your family (spouse, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandfather, grandmother, brother, or sister of the whole or half blood, or the son, daughter, adopting parent, adopted child, stepparent, stepchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece) deliver the absentee ballot to you.
When you or your child is in a hospital in the county where you are a qualified voter and no request is made for a member of your family to deliver the ballot, the director of the county board of elections must arrange for the delivery of the absentee ballot to you and for its return to the office of the board by two board employees belonging to the two major political parties. When you or your child is in a hospital outside the county where you are a qualified voter and no request is made for a member of your family to deliver the ballot, the director must arrange for the delivery of an absentee ballot to you by mail.
Disability Rights Ohio
Disability Rights Ohio is the federally and state designated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) system and Client Assistance Program for people with disabilities in the State of Ohio. Disability Rights Ohio was created to protect the rights of Ohioans with disabilities, and that includes protecting the fundamental right to vote. If you experience problems when you register to vote or exercise your right to vote, please contact Disability Rights Ohio. You can call Disability Rights Ohio's Intake toll free telephone line or write to Disability Rights Ohio's Intake: Need our Help?
Disability Rights Ohio
50 West Broad Street, Suite 1400
Columbus, Ohio 43215-5923
Telephone: 800-282-9181 (statewide toll free) or 614-466-7264 (toll call)
TTY: 800-858-3542 (statewide toll free) or 614-728-2553 (toll call)
Web site: www.disabilityrightsohio.org
Ohio Secretary of State
The Ohio Secretary of State receives and reviews complaints of voting rights violations. If you believe that your rights to accessible voting places and equipment have been violated, you have the right to file a complaint with the Ohio Secretary of State. More information is available at the Ohio Secretary of State website.
County Boards of Elections
You can also contact your County Boards of Elections which are responsible for voter registration and administering polling places in Ohio. Contact your county board of elections if you have a problem with finding your voting location, accessing the location or ballot, registering to vote, or applying for an absentee ballot.
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces ADA Title II and investigates complaints of ADA Title II violations. If you believe that your rights to accessible voting places and equipment have been violated, you have the right to file a complaint with the DOJ.
United States Department of Justice
Telephone: 800-514-0301 (toll free)
On the Web: Department of Justice ADA Mediation Program
For transportation assistance, you can call the local or county campaign headquarters of either political party or of a local candidate to arrange transportation to the polls. They will usually arrange for a volunteer to take you to the polls.
You can also ask your case manager or social worker whether or not they can assist you or whether or not they know of a transportation resource in your area. You can also contact your local paratransit service and arrange transportation in advance.