As National Voter Registration Day approaches on September 25, I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to stress the importance of registering to vote and making sure all Americans are equally afforded that right. This is especially true for Americans with disabilities, who are more likely to be turned away from registration because of election workers who are not properly trained.
I’ve met countless voters across the nation and often hear stories about the unacceptable obstacles many have faced when registering to vote. Many voters face such obstacles because they have a disability and because an election worker, or a team of election workers, didn’t know how best to serve them. However, many jurisdictions are implementing innovative programs to address this issue.
One example comes from Contra Costa County, California. After receiving several complaints from voters and advocates taking issue with the lack of accessibility at a few of the county’s polling places during the 2016 November election, the county created the Accessible Polling Place Location and Equipment (APPLE) class to put poll workers in the shoes of voters who need assistance and provide real-life examples of situations that can occur at a polling place on Election Day. Many poll workers reported the class left them with a new perspective and awareness of the polling place environment for all voters. This is just one example of an action a jurisdiction can take to increase accessibility for voters with disabilities.
Other jurisdictions have benefited from partnerships with nonprofit organizations. El Paso County, Colorado, for example, has collaborated with the local Independence Center for Southern Colorado to offer a universally accessible polling place for voters. During the 2016 Federal Election, the 2017 Coordinated Election and the 2018 Primary Election, The Independence Center operated as a highly accessible Voter Polling and Service Center (VPSC). Open houses were hosted prior to the election to demonstrate how to use election equipment. On Election Day, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and election judges who had been specifically trained in disability etiquette were present at the center. Voters could cast paper ballots or use electronic voting machine and the Clerk’s Office produced its first ASL-interpreted sample ballot for the 2017 Coordinated Election.
Advancing the accessibility provisions of HAVA must be at the forefront as election officials and voters approach the 2018 elections and beyond. The EAC encourages states to modernize their voter registration process, including additional training for workers who interact with those with disabilities at all stages of the election process. These two jurisdictions provide examples, and hopefully inspiration, of what such solutions might look like.