In the United States, voting is often viewed as one of the most important exercises of human rights. However, for the nearly 4 million Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are legally eligible to vote, this human right is frequently denied or little is done to assist them in casting their votes. Curtis Decker is the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. Decker states that the struggle to ensure that Americans with disabilities are able to vote independently and privately is a constant struggle.
Factors Possibly Affecting the Ability of Individuals with IDD to Vote
There have been numerous suggestions as to why many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not voting, these suggested reasons include:
- Limited literacy skills
- Inadequate knowledge of issues related to voting
- Service providers neglecting to teach voting skills
- Residing in settings where voting is not regularly performed
- A lack of accessible polling places and/or voting materials
- Discouragement from poll workers
Whether singularly or in combination, these factors may prevent or deter individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from registering to vote, or visiting their local polling place to cast their vote. Numerous steps have been taken to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the equal opportunity to vote that Americans without disabilities do. Service providers can make a difference by taking steps to learn more about the voting process in general through voter forums and online services. Furthermore, service providers should consider finding ways to assist persons being served who are interested in exercising their right to vote.
How Service Providers Can Learn More About Issues Related to Voting
Take Advantage of Free Voter Forums
By attending one of the free voter forums, service providers can learn more about the stance the Democratic and Republican parties take on the issues affecting individuals with disabilities.
In addition, at these voter forums, service providers:
- may be able to register to vote; and
- may test ballot marking machines.
Download the Maryland REV UP Campaign Toolkit
The Maryland REV UP Toolkit offers a wealth of information and resources, including:
- Information related to voter registration, voting deadlines and polling place accessibility.
- Voting rights.
- A survey to complete about the polling place visited.
To Learn More, Contact Disability Rights Maryland (DRM)
Contact DRM to schedule a training presentation that includes information related to registering to vote:
DRM Voting Advocate, Tracy Wright
tracyw@DisabilityRightsMD.org or (443) 690-2603
To report any concerns related to voting, service providers can:
email the DRM at voting@DisabilityRightsMD.org or call the DRM Voter Hotline at (443) 692-2492.
Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council
217 East. Redwood Street, Suite 1300
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
(800) 305-6441 (MD Relay: 711)
4 Tips for Assisting People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Who Want to Vote
- Visit the U.S. Vote Foundation website to help the person being served register to vote. There are varying deadlines for each state in relation to the registering to vote.
- Service providers can assist individuals with IDD who want to exercise their right to vote by helping them attain an absentee ballot from the U.S. Vote Foundation.
- Once the ballot arrives, assist the person being served with filling it out and mailing it. Again, there is a deadline as to the mailing date of the absentee ballot.
- Individuals in Maryland who are interested in voting early can do so.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II and Voting Initiative
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires local and state governments to provide individuals with disabilities access to every aspect necessary to exercise their right to vote. Title II mandates that the government provide individuals with disabilities a means to register to vote, an accessible polling place as well as the ability to vote using a ballot. In 2015, the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the nation worked together to create the ADA Voting Initiative. This initiative covers all aspects of voting.
The ADA and Help America Vote Act (HAVA) require all Americans (including individuals with disabilities and seniors) have an opportunity to participate in the voting process:
- If necessary, individuals with disabilities are permitted to bring someone with them to help them vote.
- Curbside voting is available for individuals with disabilities or those who are at least 65 years of age, a poll worker will bring the voting materials to the car.
Revised Polling Places Checklist Created to Ensure Accessibility
With new emphasis being placed on the right of individuals with disabilities to vote, the Department of Justice has recently amended the Polling Places Checklist for the ADA to ensure every eligible individual with a disability can exercise his or her right to vote in person.