As National Voter Registration Day approaches on September 26, I would be remiss not to write a blog about the importance of registering to vote and making sure that all Americans are equally afforded that right. This is especially true for Americans with disabilities, men and women who are more likely to be turned away from registration because election workers are not properly trained on how to best serve this community.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet with countless voters across the nation and often hear stories about the unacceptable obstacles they faced when it came time for them to register. People with mental illness have been turned away from registration simply because they are viewed as not having the mental capacity to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Some Americans with a speech impediment had registration questions go unanswered or faced other challenges because the election worker serving them lacked the proper training. These kinds of situations are not only unacceptable, they are simply un-American.
The goal of any free and just society should be allowing for all of its eligible citizens to have the opportunity to express their voice through the ballot box. The Help America Vote Act recognized this. That’s why this landmark legislation included specific statues mandating that all Americans with disabilities – whether physical or cognitive – have the ability to vote independently and privately. This responsibility shapes our work at the Election Assistance Commission, and it should inform local election practices and policies, too. We encourage states to modernize their voter registration process, including additional training for all workers who interact with those with disabilities.