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U.S. EAC Releases “Disability, the Voting Process, and the Digital Divide” Study

EAC seal with the text U.S. Election Assistance Commission News

For Immediate Release
July 26, 2022

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in partnership with Rutgers University released a new study titled “Disability, the Voting Process, and the Digital Divide.” This study was conducted through a national survey in March and April of 2022 to identify both the advancements and gaps in accessibility for voters with disabilities. The EAC worked with Professors Dr. Lisa Schur and Dr. Douglas Kruse, Co-Directors of the Program for Disability Research at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, and Dr. Mason Ameri, Associate Professor of Professional Practice at the Rutgers Business School to conduct the study.

The study was conducted with a focus on computer and internet use, sources of information on the voting process used in 2020, accessibility of information sources, preferred ways of receiving information about the voting process, trust in information sources, expectations about voting and information sources in 2022, and knowledge of rights for accessible information. Access to this data is critical for election officials who are continuously working to communicate and meet the needs of their jurisdictions. Understanding how to better communicate with voters with disabilities – regardless of access to the internet – is crucial to making elections more accessible. A copy of the full report can be found here.

“The 2020 elections were extremely successful and gave election offices across the country a lot of momentum to build on – especially around accessibility for voters with disabilities. Research has shown the continued progress election officials have made but there is still work to be done. Effective communications are a critical part of making elections accessible,” said EAC Chairman Thomas Hicks. “The findings from this study are invaluable both for the EAC and the thousands of election officials across the U.S. who rely on this information to inform planning for programming designed for the disability community.”

“Improving access to elections for all qualified voters is of vital importance to the Election Assistance Commission. Studies like this allow the EAC to highlight areas for improvement, success, and development. The EAC will continue to support election officials as they serve voters with disabilities and use this study to develop resources, guidance, and best practices so voters have the information they need in the ways they need it,” said EAC Vice Chair Christy McCormick. 

“The internet is of large and growing importance in social and political life, but we find that 7.5 million eligible voters with disabilities do not have internet access,” said Professor Lisa Schur, Co-Director of the Rutgers Program for Disability Research. “The internet provides access to election information and social networks that mobilize voting, and the reduced internet access of people with disabilities contributes to their lower levels of voter turnout as found our 2021 report with the EAC.  It is essential to provide election information in multiple formats so that all citizens are able to exercise the right to vote.”

Key findings from “Disability and the Digital Divide in the Voting Process” include:

People with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to use computers or related devices and less likely to have access to a printer.

  • Close to six out of seven (86%) of people with disabilities use some form of computing device, compared to nineteen of twenty (95%) of people without disabilities. One-third (33%) of people with disabilities do not have a printer at home or easy access to one, compared to only 18% of people without disabilities.

 People with disabilities were more likely than those without disabilities to use non-internet-based sources to obtain information on the voting process and less likely to use internet-based sources.

  • Almost three-fourths (71%) of people with disabilities said they received information on the voting process and where to vote from non-internet-based sources, compared to three-fifths (61%) of people without disabilities.  People with disabilities were slightly less likely to use internet-based sources (34%) than were people without disabilities (37%).

Election office websites are the most preferred source of information on the voting process and where to vote, followed by talking to family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

  • Two-fifths of respondents would prefer to get information on the voting process and where to vote from election office websites. However, this figure is slightly lower among people with disabilities (38% compared to 44% for people without disabilities) who are more likely than those without disabilities to prefer talking to family members, friends, neighbors, or colleagues (32% compared to 24% for people without disabilities) or receiving printed mailings from the election office (28% compared to 18%) or receiving the information from television (24% compared to 12%).

The results of the study illuminate the longstanding and critical consequences of the digital divide between people with and without disabilities. To bridge the gap, election officials should prioritize providing voting information in multiple formats, to help ensure citizens with disabilities are able to obtain the information they need to fully participate in elections. Long-term efforts should also be made to reduce the digital divide by expanding internet access for people with disabilities – particularly those who have low incomes or live in rural areas.

Through the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the EAC is tasked with maintaining a clearinghouse of election administration information. To fulfill this mission, the EAC provides best practices recommendations, training materials, and other resources for election officials. By enhancing our work with voters with disabilities and the election officials who serve them, the EAC aims to improve accessibility and to ensure an independent and private vote for all. The EAC plans to develop more resources addressing the findings of this study in the near future.

 

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The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). It is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with ensuring secure, accurate and accessible elections by developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration. The EAC also accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems, as well as administers the use of HAVA funds. For more information, visit www.eac.gov.

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Program for Disability Research studies the economic, social, and political inclusion of people with disabilities.

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