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May 27, 2017

Access for All: Making Voting Easier for People with Disabilities

Three million votes are enough to affect the outcome of elections, including the presidential race – and that’s the number of people nationwide who may find it difficult to vote because they live with a disability.

That figure, from the American Association of People with Disabilities, is one of the reasons Disability Rights NC released a new website this week. Matthew Herr, an attorney and policy analyst for the group, said it will connect people with a disability to the information they need to cast a ballot.

“Because if you don’t know how to vote, it makes it really difficult to actually vote, and so that’s really what our website is trying to do, is make sure that people have the information they need to vote (and) they know their rights, they know how to report it if their rights have been violated,” Herr said. “We want to make sure that people are empowered to exercise their right to vote.”

Herr said problems include physical access to the polls, voter confusion because of attempts to change the laws, and the inability to secure an absentee ballot for people receiving inpatient care. The site, AccessTheVoteNC.org, offers information on rights to accessibility at the polls and what people can do if they encounter what might be a voting-rights violation.

The website includes functionalities and text that are compatible with technologies available to assist those with a disability. While most county Boards of Elections try to maintain accessible polls, Herr said, it’s sometimes hard to identify barriers unless you’re the one encountering them.

“There are definitely a lot of systems out there that might be designed with good intentions,” he said, “but unless you have folks who have disabilities or are using those kinds of assistive technologies giving you feedback, there are just things that might not occur to you.”

According to Disability Rights NC, voter turnout for people with disabilities in North Carolina was more than 14 percent lower than the turnout for those without, which makes the disability voting gap the fourth largest in the nation. In North Carolina, there are Multipartisan Assistance Teams, coordinated by the County Boards of Elections, that are appointed to provide assistance with mail-in absentee voting for people in inpatient facilities.

More information is online at AccessTheVoteNC.org.

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