Get Out the Vote 2012: Assisting Disabled and Homebound Voters
This post is part our weekly Get Out the Vote 2012 series, focusing on ways to promote civic engagement in your Jewish community and highlighting portions from the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide. Check back every Monday for new updates.
More than 35 million voting-age people have disabilities, yet 14 million are not registered to vote, often as a result of polling place accessibility issues. Both the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 require polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement of these laws, many polling places are still located in church basements and upstairs meeting halls that lack ramps and elevators.
As a result, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that during the 2008 federal election, only 27.3 percent of polling places across the country were fully accessible with no potential impediments for people with disabilities (up from 16 percent during the 2000 elections). As a result, voter turnout among people with disabilities was 3 to 7 percent lower than among people without disabilities in the 2008 and 2010 elections.
Leviticus 19:14 states, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in our communities.
Addressing accessibility issues is paramount to ensuring congregants with disabilities are able to cast their ballots and make their voices heard on Election Day. There are a number of ways you can help in this effort:
- Create a comprehensive list of known voting-age congregants with disabilities, including those who are elderly.
- Make calls or visits to discuss voting options. Bring a copy of voter registration forms; assist individuals with disabilities in filling out and mailing in the forms.
- Supply individuals with information they need about upcoming elections. For example, supply large-print copies of informational materials or provide rides to and from community forums.
- Offer to accompany a blind community member to the polls, taking care to assure the person that you will fill out the ballot according to his or her preference. The Help America Vote Act requires all polling places to have at least one accessible voting machine for voters with vision impairments. However, not all voters may be comfortable using these machines. Federal law mandates that blind voters be permitted accompaniment by an aide of their choice to help them vote.
- Check (in advance) to make sure your local polling places are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. Check for elevators, lifts, ramps, disability-accessible parking spots, etc. Where such accessibility aids do not exist, contact your local Board of Elections to address these issues.
- In some jurisdictions, pre-Election Day voting orientations are conducted for voters with mental disabilities. Find out if such orientations exist in your area.
- Poll workers sometimes challenge the voting rights of individuals with disabilities when they arrive on Election Day. Contact your chief local election official in advance to establish a system under which such challenges can be immediately rectified should they occur. In some communities, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (www.naacp.org) and the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org) provide on-call lawyers on Election Day to ensure that every registered voter is permitted to cast a ballot.
Is your polling place fully accessible? Find out using the American Disability Act (ADA) Checklist or the American Association of People with Disabilities voting resources.
To learn more about how your congregation or organization can promote civic engagement this election season, download your copy of the RAC’s Get Out the Vote 2012 guide now at www.rac.org/vote.