Voting - Advocating for Our Rights
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Disability Rights Florida recently testified at a meeting of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration about problems with voting for individuals with disabilities in Florida. The meeting was in Miami on Friday June 28, 2012. We focused on two major issues – the need for enforcement of Section 7 of the National Voting Registration Act (NVRA) regarding voter registration of people with disabilities and the need for accommodations for people with disabilities and elders who cannot stand in long lines to vote.
We reminded the Commission that section 7 of the NVRA was created to enhance voting opportunities and to increase the historically lower voter registration rates of minorities and people with disabilities. Section 7 specifies that voter registration opportunities must be offered through all offices that provide state-funded programs engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §1973 gg-5.
In many states, services were formerly delivered to people with disabilities directly by state agencies. More commonly now, these services are contracted out by various state agencies to numerous providers, most of which have absolutely no knowledge of their obligation under the NVRA to assist their clients with disabilities in registering to vote. This is certainly the case in Florida. Florida reported that 763 people with disabilities in 2012 were registered through this process, which is astoundingly low given the number of people with disabilities in Florida who receive state-funded services. We are currently working with the Florida Division of Elections to enhance their training for and outreach to providers of state-funded services that are not aware of this obligation. We are also going directly to provider groups and offering training. People with disabilities are not offered the required option for voter registration and assistance that is available from providers of state-funded services. We urged the immediate use of the full range of options in enforcing this provision.
We also explained to the Commissioners that Florida has an unresolved problem with determining how to best accommodate people with disabilities and elders who cannot stand in long lines to vote. All but one of the calls we received through a national voter protection hotline during Early Voting and on Election Day in Florida were related to long lines. Secondary to this was the lack of availability of disabled parking because, as people were waiting a long time to vote, the parking places for people with disabilities did not turn over. Voters who called us to complain reported not seeing any signage giving information about who to ask for help or what were available as accommodations. Some voters reported poll workers stationed outside informing them of options as they approached the lines if they had signs of visible disabilities (e.g. walkers, crutches, portable oxygen, wheelchairs, scooters, etc.). Voters with hidden disabilities were far less likely to hear any information from poll workers on accommodations. What we learned in responding to these calls was that many local Supervisors of Elections have formal or informal polices about accommodations but the voters do not know about them in advance. Some states have developed statewide options for people with disabilities who need accommodations at the polls and we may need to consider this in Florida.
Based on what people with disabilities have reported to us, we recommended that local Supervisors of Elections be required by states to:
- Develop policies specific to voters with disabilities/elders who are unable to stand in line to cast a ballot.
- Publicize these policies in advance of the time that absentee ballots can be requested. If voters know in advance what the accommodations will be, they can make more informed choices about voting in person or by mail. Minimally, this information can be easily posted on election websites.
- Post signage outside of the polling place telling voters who need on-site accommodations how to get them.
If you have questions about your voting rights and responsibilities, you may contact us directly at 1-800-342-0823 or using our online intake system at http://www.DisabilityRightsFlorida.org.
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