Casting a ballot can be a complicated and difficult process for anyone. For someone with a disability, this is compounded with layers of accessibility issues throughout the voting process.
Voter suppression still happens today. In some states, people with intellectual disabilities and people under guardianship are not allowed to vote. In Minnesota, all people with disabilities over the age of 18 have the right to vote, unless a judge has said otherwise.
The state offers a number of voting accommodations that are geared toward people with disabilities but ultimately are a service to all voters.
Those are explained below, along with advice about advocating for yourself and others at the polling place.
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Choose someone to help you vote
All voters in Minnesota can bring someone to assist them at their polling place, so long as it’s not a candidate, someone you work with or who is in your union, if you’re part of one.
“It’s something that we’re really pushing for this election season,” says Melanie Hazelip, director of voter outreach at the Minnesota Secretary of State. “It could be for anyone – for any reason at all.”
This help could come from a friend, family member, neighbor, other support person or even an election worker at your polling place. This person can help with any part of the process at the polls, including coming into the voting booth with you for whatever assistance you might need in reading or filling out the ballot. They can also assist with using voting machines. The support person is not allowed to influence or share how you vote.
Hazelip says people are more likely to vote if they know they can bring someone along to help them.
It’s Minnesota law that every voting place (except in towns with fewer than 500 registered voters) must have an accessible voting machine for those who have difficulty or cannot vote with a pen and paper ballot.
“They are great for people who need assistive technology in marking their ballots. It’s a way to have a ballot read to you, and then usually there’s more than one way to fill out the ballot using the machine,” says Hazelip.
Minnesota has four different types of ballot marking machines. The Secretary of State website has more detail on the machines and which counties use which ones.
Poll workers cannot ask what your disability is or why you need to use a machine. That remains private.
A voting machine can display your ballot in large print with a high contrast background or read the ballot to you through headphones. It can also be completed using a Braille keypad, touchscreen or sip-and-puff device. Then, the completed ballot is printed and counted.
Vote from your car
If you can’t easily exit a vehicle, you can have a ballot brought out to your car to complete. This is also called curbside voting, and you can request this at any polling location in the state.
Two election judges from two different major political parties will bring your ballot out to your car for you to fill out and then bring it back inside to the ballot box.
Hazelip says it’s helpful for everyone if you can call your county elections office ahead of time to let them know where your polling place is and that you’re requesting curbside voting.
“It’s not necessary, but if they know you’re coming, they can be prepared and make it go more smoothly,” she says.
Depending on the county, some voting sites might have signs outside with a number to call when you’ve arrived for curbside voting, or other instructions to let election workers know you’ve arrived.
Brittanie Hernandez-Wilson is equity and justice director at The Arc Minnesota. She notes that not everyone has car transportation available to them and encourages people who can offer rides to think of the people with disabilities in their lives on Election Day.
Curbside voting is also an option for people who are sick with COVID-19, with masking strongly recommended.
People who are hospitalized or live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential treatment centers, group homes or shelters may have someone pick up and return an absentee ballot for them. This option is available starting seven days before the election until 3 p.m. on Election Day.
The “agent,” as they’re called, must be 18 or older, have a pre-existing relationship with the person they’re assisting and cannot be a candidate.
People who are sick with COVID-19 may also use the agent delivery method to vote.
Discrimination, advocacy and reporting issues
David Fenley, ADA director at the Minnesota Council on Disability, says that in every election, there are election judges at polling places who question the voting abilities of people with disabilities.
“And that’s not their job – at all,” Fenley says.
Election judges at polling places are responsible for facilitating voting. They do not determine who does or doesn’t get to vote.
If you or someone you’re helping vote experiences this or another form of discrimination or voter intimidation, assert that it’s your right to vote. You can also call the Secretary of State’s voter hotline at 1-877-600-8683 for assistance.
For people who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing, the state has partnered with the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing on a separate ASL hotline that can be reached at (612) 293-4288. Callers will connect with someone who is ASL speaking and uses that type of assistive phone technology to address issues and answer questions.
Voters whose rights were violated or were discriminated against can also file a complaint through the Secretary of State’s office. The completed complaint form must be notarized and returned to your county attorney for investigation.