New report outlines experiences of voters with disabilities in 2012 election

October 24, 2013 / voting

The National Council on Disability (NCD) has released a new report, outlining the current status of voting access for people with disabilities in the United States. NCD, the National Disability Rights Network and EIN SOF Communications worked together to compile the experiences of nearly 900 voters with disabilities during the 2012 election. The report also gives a comprehensive overview of the use of federal funds to protect the voting rights of people with disabilities nationwide.

Disability Rights Ohio contributed to the report and testified at a regional hearing. Full text of that testimony is below:

Disability Rights Ohio is the federal- and state-designated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities in the state of Ohio. Our mission is to advocate for the human, civil, and legal rights of people with disabilities in Ohio. We are committed to ensuring that all people have access to the election process, without regard to any physical or mental disabilities they may have

The right to vote is one of the most important ways an individual can participate in society and government. In an effort to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to the electoral process, Disability Rights Ohio educates and informs individuals, local boards of elections, and policy makers about the voting rights of people with disabilities; investigates complaints about polling place accessibility and other barriers; and represents individuals with disabilities when seeking to participate in the electoral process. We also operate a toll-free hot-line on Election Day that allows voters to bring accessibility issues to our attention.

Based on our experience of representing individual clients and monitoring these issues from a policy perspective, Disability Rights Ohio offers the following as Best Practices to the Commission.

First, we recommend that State and local election boards establish and maintain open lines of communication with the Protection and Advocacy, other-wise known as the “P&A system”, in their state; at all times, but particularly on Election Day and in the weeks and months before. Issues affecting voters with disabilities can arise unexpectedly, and resolution of these issues must occur promptly so that no one is unlawfully disenfranchised. Enclosed is a report detailing important issues we observed during the November 2012 election, including a lawsuit in federal court that could have been resolved informally if there had been better communication. Also, the P&A organizations are often the best equipped to help educate elections officials on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act, and provide recommendations on how to make the elections process more accessible for voters with disabilities.

Second, we recommend the operation of toll-free hotlines dedicated to voting rights calls and staffed by trained professionals on Election Day. Moreover, we recommend that advocacy organizations be prepared to address and or investigate voting rights questions throughout the election process season as many states have begun early voting procedures well in advance of the traditional “election day.” I have submitted a copy of our report summarizing the operations of DRO’s 2012 election hotline with this written testimony for your review.

Third, we recommend that all information about elections be provided on accessible web-sites. As more individuals use web-sites to perform functions related to voting, such as obtaining and submitting voter registration forms and requesting absentee ballots, it is essential that these web-sites are accessible to all voters. Attached to this written testimony is a copy of a report produced by Disability Rights Ohio last year that details an initial assessment of Ohio’s many county Boards of Elections web-sites for your review.

Disability Rights Ohio appreciates the opportunity to share these recommendations with the Commission, and we respectfully request that the Commission take into consideration the disability community’s suggestions as you craft your report.

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