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Illustration: Columbia University

Voting Options for Persons Living with Disabilities

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One of the privileges I anticipated upon becoming an adult in the ‘70s was that of voting. I knew the struggles of my ancestors and looked forward to stepping into the voting booth to make my voice heard. I was able to step into the booth for over 20 years until a benign spinal cord tumor in 1995 created some paralysis and limited my mobility. Instead of walking into the booth, I now had to roll into the booth.

In the late mid ‘90s, when I moved to Athens, I went to my designated precinct and, to my dismay, could not enter using my wheel chair. The door to the building was not wide enough and there were several wooden obstacles in the narrow entrance over which you had to walk or roll. In addition, the parking lot was not paved. It was gravel! Try rolling over gravel in a wheel chair. Voting for many years in Ohio was simply not easy, especially if you wanted to have independence and do it on your own.

The tide has turned. During the months leading up the 2008 Presidential election, a representative from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, who uses a wheel chair, visited every precinct in the state and tested each polling location for accessibility. Because of his first-person evaluation, voting at a precinct is possible for every person living with a disability in the State of Ohio. His office closed voting places that were not accessible and made new ones available to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to make the the voting experience a good one. There are some locations, however, that are exempt from accessibility requirements. In those few cases, curbside voting is provided.

An eligible voter with any kind of disability will have easy access and assistance, if needed, to help with the voting process. The Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, provides answers to some frequently asked questions.

What if I am unable to sign my voter registration form or other election documents? If you are unable to sign your own name and have no other legal mark, make an “X,” if possible, on the application signature line. The person who witnessed you making that mark must write his or her name beneath the signature line. If you are unable to make an “X,” you must indicate in some manner to the person assisting you that you want to register to vote. The person registering you must sign the application form and attest that you indicated that you want to register to vote.

May a person who has my “power of attorney” sign my name to my voter registration application? No. However, if by reason of disability you are unable to physically sign your name or affix your mark to the application, you may appoint an “attorney-in-fact” in accordance with the specific requirements of R.C. 3501.382. Your attorney-in-fact then may sign a voter registration application on your behalf, but only at your direction and in your presence. Contact your county board of elections or the Secretary of State’s office for the proper forms necessary to designate an “attorney-in-fact” for this purpose.

Will there be accessible voting equipment for me to use? In Ohio, every polling location is required to have a voting machine that is accessible to individuals with disabilities.   These machines include features like audio ballots, Braille touch pads, large print/zoom features, and height and tilt adjustments on the screens.  When you arrive at your polling location, please let the poll workers know if you would like to use the ADA compliant voting machines.

Is curbside voting an option for me? At any polling place that is exempt from the accessibility requirements, if you have a disability and are unable to enter the polling place, you may vote curbside. Two precinct election officials from the major political parties will bring a ballot to you. You may sit in your car and vote, or you may vote at the door of the building

Am I allowed to have assistance at the voting location? If you cannot mark your ballot or if you need assistance because of your disability, you may bring someone with you to help you vote, or you may ask for assistance from precinct elections officials. You may ask anyone to help you vote, except for the following people: your employer, an agent of your union, any candidate shoes name appears on the ballot. You may also get help in marking your ballot from election officials from two different political parties.  By law, no one who helps you vote can tell you how to mark your ballot or provide information to others about how you voted.

Are all voting locations accessible? In Ohio, voting locations must be made accessible for people with disabilities.  Under State and Federal law, voters with disabilities must be given the same opportunity for access and participation as any other voter.  You must also be able to vote privately and independently.

The ADA protects people with disabilities from receiving unequal treatment within state and local government services, programs, and activities. (ADA, Title II)  This law protects your right to vote by making sure that voters with disabilities have access to: accessible parking, an accessible entrance, an accessible route to the voting area, voting procedures, and voting machines.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) protects the right of people with disabilities to vote by making sure that: voting locations are easy to get to and to use, people who are blind or having problems seeing get the help they need, voting is private and personal, and each polling location has an accessible voting machine.

Ohio law protects the right of persons living with disabilities to vote by requiring voting locations to be free of barriers, and nothing should block the entrances or exits, and voting locations to have ramps, wide doors, and accessible parking.

State of Ohio ADA Coordinator

614-466-2655; TTY 614-466-0562