As Election Day approaches on November 8th, those with special needs may be wondering about what experience they’ll have at their local polling station, especially if it’s their first time voting there.
Unfortunately, they have reason to be concerned.
A recent NPR spotlight on polling accessibility pointed out how even seemingly minor problems at polling stations can become significant obstacles for the disabled — including at those polling stations that seem completely accessible at first glance.
In a disappointing statistic, the NPR story reported that, in 2008, just one in four stations were found to be fully accessible.
If you live in Ohio and have a disability that could affect your ability to cast a ballot, here are some tips for voting.
Consider Absentee Voting or Early Voting
If you’d like to avoid the polls, it’s not too late to vote by absentee.
In Ohio, you can apply for an absentee ballot through your county board of elections up until noon three days prior to the election. Here’s a link to the form. You’ll receive a ballot that you can fill out and send it back by mail.
You can also vote early at certain polling locations. Check your county’s Board of Elections for details. Disability Rights Ohio, the nonprofit organization that serves as the state’s official Protection and Advocacy System, has listed the times for early voting, which are throughout the state.
However, you shouldn’t feel confined to voting early or by absentee ballot. You have the right to vote in person on Election Day, just like every other eligible U.S. citizen.
Plan Ahead for Your Visit to the Polls
It’s important to plan ahead for your visit to a physical polling station, especially if you haven’t physically been inside your polling location in the past. Check it out as soon as you can – do a preliminary visit if possible.
Every polling place is required to be fully accessible, but as the NPR feature pointed out, that doesn’t mean that it will be. Disability Rights Ohio lists several examples of common accessibility problems, including: “a lack of accessible parking spaces; gravel parking lots and paths to the building; and lack of ramps or accessible door handles.”
You may also consider calling the County Board of Elections to ask any questions about the accessibility of the voting machines that will be used at your polling place.
If you find that your polling place or voting machines won’t be accessible to you, contact Disability Rights Ohio for help getting transferred to another polling place.
If you need help getting to the polling place, consider reaching out to a local political party or candidate. They often work with volunteers who are happy to transport voters on Election Day. You can also ask your case manager or social worker to connect you to transportation resources.
Know Your Rights
In Ohio, you can take advantage of a specific list of voting accommodations for those with disabilities. It’s called the “Glancy Consent Order,” and Disability Rights Ohio suggests that you print a copy and bring it with you when you vote.
The order states that when you register to vote, it creates a “presumption in favor of capacity to vote.” That means that poll workers can’t challenge your eligibility to vote based on mental capacity — only on universal factors such as age, residency or citizenship.
Keep in mind that it’s your right to be able to vote privately and independently, and that you also have the right to assistance. You can bring whoever you want to help you, as long as he or she isn’t a candidate or an agent of your employer or your labor union. If you don’t have anyone to help you, poll workers should help you mark your ballot.
For more info on voting –including what to do if a poll worker won’t allow you to vote — check out Disability Rights Ohio’s entire resource page on voting.
Also make sure you have Disability Rights Ohio’s phone number on hand to report any problems: 1-800-282-9181 or TTY 1-800-858-3542.
Photo credit: Pete Linforth / pixabay.com