Special Needs Voters Work for AccessJune 22nd, 2012
As the Presidential election approaches, and local, state and national candidates begin their campaigns, special needs voters are beginning a campaign of their own. The Arc of the U.S. has launched its “We’ve Got the Power” initiative to encourage people with disabilities to participate in the political process.
One facet of the program is promoting voter registration among people with disabilities. The right of disabled people to vote is well-established in national and international law. The 2002 Help America Vote Act provides that each voting site must have an accessible booth where voters with disabilities can cast their ballots independently and privately. In addition, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has stated that member nations must ensure that persons with disabilities are able to vote and be elected to public office.
In short, unless a judge has declared a person to be ineligible to vote due to incapacity, imprisonment or a felony conviction, every citizen age 18 or older has the right to vote, regardless of disability. However, despite the clear legal mandate, special needs voters still face barriers.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 requires that states:
- Make polling places (including the path of travel, entrances, exits and voting areas of each polling facility, accessible to individuals with the full range of disabilities (i.e. blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, mobility-related, dexterity-related, emotional or intellectual.)
- Provide the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) to individuals with the full range of disabilities.
- Train election officials and poll workers on how best to promote access and participation of individuals with the full range of disabilities with information about the accessibility of polling places.
The New York State Board of Elections can provide further assistance to voters upon request. To facilitate voter accessibility, poll workers are trained to:
- Treat voters with dignity
- Effectively communicate with voters
- Interact with voters
- Use positive language
- Practice natural communication
- Act appropriately around service animals
- Offer assistance for all access needs
In 2008, more people with disabilities voted in the general election than at any other time in history, but the voting rate remains lower than that of the general population. Special needs voters have encountered problems such as accessible voting booths located in inaccessible locations, and malfunctioning technology.
The Arc aims to make a positive change. The “We’ve Got the Power” campaign encourages people with disabilities – and their supporters – to register to vote, and educates candidates and the public about issues of importance to the special needs community. For more information, visit www.thearc.org.
To read more about HAVA, click here. To visit the New York State Board of Elections, click here. For assistance with questions regarding the legal rights of people with special needs, visit our website at http://www.specialneedsnewyork.com/.