By Suzanne Levy, co-authored Jamison Levy
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a broad-sweeping federal law designed to eliminate discrimination towards those with disabilities. Notably, the ADA doesn’t specifically address polling places, but Title II of the ADA requires equal voting rights for those with disabilities. “The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires jurisdictions responsible for conducting federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for persons with disabilities at each polling place in federal elections. According to the U.S. Department of Justice in their article “The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities” states that “The accessible voting system must provide the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence, that other voters receive.” (Sept 2014).
Notwithstanding these requirements, new trends in voting laws over the last couple of years have created discriminatory practices towards those with disabilities issues; this includes adults who are at a higher risk of being disabled. Those with these challenges often use non-traditional methods to cast their votes: mail-in ballots, ballot drop-boxes, curbside voting, or requesting the help of another at the voting booth. Altering these methods is often the focus of these new laws. The Brennan Center for Justice states that “Between January 1 and December 7 , at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.”
Among the most damaging is the new law in Texas, in effect since December 2021. In Texas, voters who mail in their ballots must now provide their driver’s license number on the ballot or the last four digits of their social security number if they do not have a driver’s license. That number provided must match the same number that was provided when they first registered to vote. According to the ABC News Article by White House Correspondent Rachel Scott, “Thirty percent of mail-in ballots were rejected or marked for rejected in Harris County, which includes Houston, when the law first went into effect. After the county gave voters like Gaskin the opportunity to correct the problem, the number lowered to a 13.45% rejection rate. (February 21, 2022)
In addition, the new Texas law has requirements for assistants at the polling location. The voting assistant must now sign a form containing their information and take an oath. There are now criminal penalties if the assistant helps the voter in any way that was unauthorized. These additional requirements will likely deter people from assisting those with disabilities when voting. The Texas law further limits voting by banning 24-hour voting and drive-through voting and adding provisions to bolster the authorities of poll watchers.
Georgia’s S.B. 202 is similar to Texas in that it too modifies the rules regarding absentee ballots. The old law allowed an absentee ballot to be requested up to 180 days before the election. Under the new law, that timeframe is decreased to 78 days and cuts off the ability to request such ballots at 11 days before election day. Absentee voters must now include their driver’s license number on the ballot. Georgia’s new law also limits the number of available drop boxes.
Alabama is not dissimilar as there is now a ban on curbside voting with all ballots and voting machines remaining inside the polling place.
While it is understandable that legislatures want to make voting more secure and fair, the concern is how are these laws being balanced with the needs of those who are disabled and providing them “...the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence, that other voters receive.” See Article, “The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities” (Sept. 2014).
For a list of all the recent bills and laws involving these issues, click here.
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