In December, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) asked people with disabilities to share their experience with us regarding voting in 2016. A big thank you to the more than 130 voters with various disabilities who emailed us from across America. Their stories ranged from positive to unfortunate experiences where they were not given the opportunity to cast a ballot in a private and independent manner. We would like to hear more. Please email your voting story to us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback will help us better prepare our 2017 game plan.
Our December blog highlighted Jeanette’s experience voting. She was thrilled with her time at the polls and came away with praise for election officials, machine manufacturers, and poll workers.
Today, I would like to share a voting story we received from Sharon. As you will read below, although Sharon was eventually able to cast her ballot, she went to great lengths to make it happen. No one should have to face the difficulties that Sharon did to exercise their right to vote. Below are excerpts from Sharon’s email.
I'm so very grateful you’re looking for input on voters with disabilities and their stories on Election Day because I did have difficulty.
I had difficulty with my absentee ballot. My disability involves minor cognitive issues so it is not easy for me to read directions and the absentee ballot’s directions when I tried to read them weren't easy to read."
Sharon continues in her email to talk about the challenges she had in figuring out where to sign her absentee ballot envelope and the overall ballot instructions. She asked her postman for assistance with the ballot and he could not figure it out. She asked her neighbor to assist her and they could not get the signature placement right. Then, Sharon called her local elections office.
"When I called my election officials I was told it could make the ballot void if signed in the wrong place. So I went into the polling place that day and was fortunate that I was having good health that day to go in and vote. I got the absentee ballot as often I'm homebound.
Thanks for your wanting to hear our voices,
Assisting voters with varying types of cognitive disabilities is important to the EAC and election officials. According to recent estimates, more than seven million Americans are faced with cognitive challenges and, in recent years, election officials have worked to better serve voters with cognitive needs. Whether a veteran with traumatic brain injury or an individual with autism, we must make sure the elections process is accessible across the board.
With the support of the EAC, many election officials have worked to consistently utilize best practices, plain language and a more user-friendly approach to voting. In 2016, we held a field hearing to learn from voters with cognitive disabilities, and in 2014 we oversaw grants in this area. This year, we will work to do even more.
As a short-term deliverable, the EAC will post best practices and resources on our website to assist both voters with cognitive disabilities and election officials responsible for providing support. Thanks again to Sharon for writing us and sharing her voting experience. Hearing concerns such as Sharon’s and others will better help us work with election officials and voters to ensure that every citizen has access to the polls.