As seen in electionline, Sep 15, 2022
At U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote), our mission is simple: Every Citizen is a Voter. With that mission comes the responsibility to ensure that every eligible citizen can access a ballot and have it counted. Voting patterns from the 2020 election show an alarming trend: While absentee voting was up across the board, a key constituency – voters with disabilities – were still struggling to make their voices heard.
In our work to expand voting access for all citizens we are excited to launch US Vote’s new resource guide for voters with disabilities. Together with a guest blog series on disability voting, the launch marks the 2022 National Disability Voting Rights Week.
Since our founding in 2005, we’ve served as a resource for all voters seeking general information on upcoming elections, including registration basics, absentee ballot requests, and direct access to local elections officials. Over the years we’ve become known as a one-stop resource for voting, absentee or in-person, whether for domestic voters or those living abroad or in the military.
When the pandemic hit, voters, whether to protect their health or that of their communities, began using absentee voting at even higher rates. We were thrilled to see so many states expand their absentee ballot offerings in 2020, resulting in greater accessibility for all Americans. At a time when turnout could have plummeted, we saw voter participation at its highest (66%) in over a century.
We also noticed that, in the same election, more Americans with disabilities participated than ever before. Indeed, mail-in voting ameliorated difficulties reported by disabled Americans: in 2020, 11.4 percent of voters with disabilities reported problems with voting, down from 26 percent in 2012. And some two-thirds of polling locations audited had at least one barrier present to those with disabilities.
When it became clear that, post-pandemic, some states were putting restrictions on absentee voting - by eliminating drop boxes, limiting who could return completed absentee ballots on voters’ behalf, and instituting complicated signature requirements - we recognized that not only would this make voting harder for all Americans, but that voting would potentially become especially difficult for those with disabilities.
During our research, we came across a key article by Elizabeth Pendo, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and an expert in disability law, that made the same point. This set us on another mission: to provide a place on our website where disabled Americans could readily find the information and data they need to vote; contact their local election officials; and advocate for reform as needed.
The complexity of fulfilling this mission made us realize how essential this effort is. We quickly found out that the information needed to empower disabled persons in making choices about voting was very difficult to find. In fact, as we conducted research for our Voters with Disabilities guide, we noticed serious information gaps, even on state websites. Our staff, though research-savvy, found it could take hours to locate basic info on voter accessibility issues, such as who could pick up a ballot, who could return a ballot on behalf of someone else, and where to make a complaint about an accessibility problem, among many other issues. No one should need that much time to figure out how to vote!
This information gap further prompted us to develop what we proudly believe to be the most comprehensive voter guide for Americans with disabilities, no matter where they live. Indeed, as of now, no other state-by-state resource exists that consolidates, in an accessible and clear way, all the information needed for voters with disabilities to cast ballots successfully and confidently - whether for the first or 50th time.
We’re proud of the effort - and of the final product: U.S. Vote Foundation’s Disability Voting Guide.
The goal of the initiative that led to the Disability Voting Guide was to create the definitive resource that brings together relevant information in one central location, saving voters hours of searching. The Disability Voting Guide not only informs and empowers voters who visit the Guide’s home page but also enable voters to access all US Vote’s available resources - as well as contact local officials for assistance, if needed.
The topics covered in the Disability Voting Guide include state and federal information on:
- Voter eligibility (who can register to vote)
- Voter rights (at federal and state levels)
- Ways to vote in a specific state, especially the alternative methods available to voters with disabilities (absentee/mail-in ballot requests, etc.)
- Information on accommodations and rules of assistance
- Information, when available, on the voting accessibility devices used at polling locations (or whom to contact for information if it is not readily available online)
- Where and how to file complaints, self-advocate, or reach out for assistance if someone’s voting rights have been violated
Our future plans include providing this information in PDF format for people who use screen readers as well as audio files for the visually impaired so as to make these pages as accessible as possible.
“It Can’t Be About Us Without Us”
We’ve been mindful to create this product in collaboration with those most impacted by the services we provide. Our friends and partners in this effort, individuals who lead disability-advocacy organizations and lecture in universities – many of whom have disabilities – helped remind us that the work “can’t be about us without us.”
To that end, we have sought to partner and co-create these services every step of the way. Leaders from Access the Vote Florida, AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities), the “Rev Up” campaign, and others have all guided us by providing feedback, reviewing documents, and asking key questions. As our relationships solidified, we recognized not only the importance of this guide but also the necessity to highlight our partners’ own stories, advice, and advocacy. That’s why, for National Disability Voting Rights Week, we enlisted five disability-rights advocates and scholars to present their views and recommendations on our blog. Check out their blog posts on disability voting topics from voting with aphasia, current barriers to voting, and ways to close the 6% gap (between Americans with and without disabilities).
This work is comprehensive, collaborative and - importantly - ongoing.
US Vote has also created one of the most thorough state-by-state guides on voting for those with felony convictions. And now we’ve added the most comprehensive state-by-state guide for voters with disabilities. We won’t stop here! As one of the most mainstream, visited, and accessible voter authorities online, we intend to cover other special voting circumstances to provide accurate, up-to-date information for voters - whatever their zip code, no matter their special interest.
Keep checking us out as we keep expanding! And reach out if you’d like to collaborate on an area we haven’t yet covered. Creating an America where every citizen votes requires our working together. Let’s collectively get it done.
About U.S. Vote Foundation
U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)3 organization that works to facilitate and increase participation of U.S. domestic, overseas, and military voters worldwide through streamlined voter registration and absentee ballot request services, civic data, technology development, and access to personalized voter information services. US Vote is a leader in Vote-by-Mail Absentee Ballot Request services. Overseas Vote is the principal initiative of US Vote. Further information: www.usvotefoundation.org.