Pennsylvania Resources for Voters with Disabilities

What are my rights as a voter with a disability in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you have the right to the following as protected by federal law. Election staff must respect these rights:

  • Accessible voter registration - this includes asking for a registration format that works for you
  • Accessible polling places - this includes asking for reasonable accommodations such as skipping the line if needed
  • Policies and procedures that do not discriminate against you based on your disability
  • Accessible, available, and operational voting systems, features
  • Your service animal to accompany you inside the polling place
  • The right to vote privately and independently or with assistance, if needed
  • Assistance from a person of choice, who can be a friend, family member, or poll worker (but not your boss, union agent, or a candidate unless this person is your family member)
  • Election Staff trained to understand the rights above.

In Pennsylvania, you also have the following rights:  

  • It is illegal for any state or local government to discriminate against anyone by denying them the right to vote based on their: 
    • race, 
    • ethnicity,
    • national origin, or
    • membership in a language minority.
       
  • Your right to vote can only be challenged if a poll worker, poll watcher, or another voter says you do not live in the precinct or are not who you say you are.
     
  • It is illegal for any person or corporation to intimidate or coerce you to vote for or against a particular candidate or political issue.
     
  • There are also laws that:
    • protect people in language minority groups from discrimination, 
    • ensure that people with a disability or the elderly can vote independently and privately, and
    • establish rights for people who are in jail or who have been convicted of a crime.
       
  • In any county, if you have limited English proficiency, you may choose someone to enter the voting booth with you to help you vote.
Who can register to vote?

To register to vote in Pennsylvania: 

  • You must be a citizen of the United States of America
  • You must be at least 18 on or before Election Day 
  • You must be a resident of your voting precinct for at least 30 days
  • If you are a student, unhoused, or a survivor of intimate partner violence with related concerns, you may still register and vote.

Register to vote now if you are eligible!

What are my rights when registering to vote?

Federal law requires assistance in registering to vote from offices that provide public assistance or state-funded programs serving people with disabilities. Responsibilities include:

  • Providing voter registration forms
  • Assisting voters in completing the forms
  • Transmitting completed forms to the appropriate election official
  • All aspects of voter registration must be accessible 
What are the different ways to vote in Pennsylvania?
  • You can vote in-person (including by a provisional ballot) on Election Day.
  • You can vote by mail
  • You can vote with an on-line accessible ballot 
  • You can vote with an alternative ballot if your polling place is not accessible.
  • You can vote early in-person at your local board of elections or at a designated location you can find on your county's website by applying for, filling out, and returning your mail-in/absentee ballot all in one step
  • You can vote with an emergency absentee ballot if needed based on disability
What are the ways to request a Mail-In or Absentee Ballot in Pennsylvania?

ANY VOTER may request a mail-in ballot from their county office up until 5pm on the Tuesday before the election. You do not have to prove you have a disability to be able to vote by mail. Disability Rights Pennsylvania takes the position that voters with disabilities should use mail-in ballots rather than absentee ballots.

However, if you would like to apply for an absentee ballot, a registered Pennsylvania voter must meet ONE of the following criteria:

  • You are in the military, including the Merchant Marines
  • You are a spouse or dependent residing with or accompanying a person in the military, including the Merchant Marines
  • You are a member of a religious or welfare group attached to and serving with the military as well as his/her spouse
  • You are an individual who, because of their duties, occupation or business, expects to be absent on Election Day for the entire period the polls are open
  • You are a qualified war veteran who is bedridden or hospitalized due to illness or physical disability and absent from your residence and unable to attend the polling place
  • Because of illness or physical disability, you are unable to attend the polling place or operate a voting machine
  • You are a spouse or dependent accompanying a person employed by the Commonwealth or the federal government whose duties, occupation or business on Election Day require him/her to be absent and unable to vote at the polls
  • You are a county employee who expects that your Election Day duties relating to the conduct of the election will prevent you from voting
  • You will not attend a polling place on Election Day because of the observance of a religious holiday.

If your disability hinders you from applying in person or delivering your mail-in or absentee ballot:

  • you may designate an agent to bring your ballot materials to you
  • your designated agent can only assist one voter with a disability
  • Use this English PDF form, Spanish PDF form, Chinese PDF form or a form provided by your county to get your helper authorized.

If you have a permanent disability, you can apply to be added to the permanent absentee voter list.

  • Make sure you fill out section C on your absentee ballot application 
  • Then you will get an annual absentee ballot application every year 

Request an absentee ballot now!

How is the Pennsylvania mail-in or absentee ballot process made accessible for voters with print disabilities?

Pennsylvania offers an online accessible ballot for voters. 

  • You can request this type of ballot by filling out an accessible PDF and mailing that to your local board of elections. You can also request an online accessible ballot by filling out an accessible online form.
  • You must be registered in Pennsylvania and have already applied for a mail-in ballot.
  • After you have successfully applied for a mail-in ballot and requested an online accessible ballot, instructions will be mailed to you for how to access your online ballot. You will also be mailed secrecy and return envelopes.
  • You must print your ballot
  • There is no e-return option available in Pennsylvania
What accommodations are available for voters with disabilities at polling locations in Pennsylvania?

Federal law requires polling places to meet minimum compliance standards for individuals with disabilities. 

It is important to know that you have the right to ask for any accommodation you might need so long as it wouldn't present a direct threat to people and/or an administrative burden to the county.

You can vote using an accessible voting machine. 

You can check to see how accessible your polling place is.

What are the rules of assistance for disabled voters in Pennsylvania?
  • You may request assistance from a poll worker or receive assistance from a person of your choice with the following exceptions:  
    • your employer, an agent of your employer
    • an officer or agent of your union
    • judge of elections
       
  • A poll worker cannot force you to accept assistance.
     
  • The first time that you receive help voting you will fill out a Declaration of the Need for Assistance form. The form is available for you to fill out in Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and Vietnamese.
     
  • You can pick someone to pick up and return your mail-in or absentee ballot by filling out this form (also available in Spanish). Your helper can only assist with one voter unless they are helping multiple voters in their household.
How can I prepare to use accessible voting equipment in Pennsylvania prior to Election Day?

You can check to see which accessible voting machine your county uses. There will be videos on how to use the voting equipment on your county’s section. (The accessible voting machine may also be labeled as a ballot marking device.)

Contact your local election official to preview a sample ballot and  practice using accessible voting equipment.

Who do I contact if I have problems when voting in Pennsylvania?

You have several options. You can: 

  • contact Disability Rights Pennsylvania at (800) 692-7443 or intake@disabilityrightspa.org with any issues you have voting
     
  • call the Pennsylvania Voter Hotline at 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) for immediate assistance
     
  • file a formal complaint about voting accessibility. Fill out and mail the form to:
    THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE
    BUREAU OF COMMISSIONS, ELECTIONS AND LEGISLATION
    210 North Office Building
    Harrisburg, PA 17120
    • You must get the form notarized.
    • You must also send the original complaint and two copies to the above mailing address.
       
  • File an informal complaint online

You can also fill out a Violation of Civil Rights Complaint Form and submit it to the US Department of Justice by one of the following methods:

  • Online, through the form’s submission process - this is the fastest method
  • By fax at (202) 616-9881. You MUST include “ATTN: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Complaints" at the top of your fax submission for it to be processed correctly
  • By mailing your form to: 

                 U.S. Department of Justice
                 Office of the Inspector General Investigations Division
                 ATTN: Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Complaints
                 950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
                 Washington, DC 20530

For additional assistance, The National Network of ADA Centers can provide local contact information for other organizations you may wish to contact, including your Regional ADA Center or ADA Knowledge Translation Center, or Federal Agencies and Resources.