Local governments in the U.S. have to make their voting information accessible to all their constituents including people with disabilities as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Making digital information such as voting related banners on social media, online forms, PDFs, etc. will ensure that election information is available to all, especially to people with disabilities in an accessible manner.
This increases citizens’ trust and engagement with government services and programs and in turn increases voter participation and turnout.
Do you know?
- One-fifth of the U.S. electorate have some form of disability.
- ~ 7 million voters have a visual disability; 13.1 million voters have a cognitive disability.
- According to a survey by EAC, there are over 47.2 million disabled American voters.
- 26 election accessibility related enforcement activities have been filed since 2014.
Online Barriers Faced By People with Disabilities
Many people with disabilities use “assistive technology” to enable them to use computers and access the Internet.
Blind people who cannot see computer monitors may use screen readers – devices that speak the text that would normally appear on a monitor.
Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities from having equal access to voting information online.
One example of a barrier would be a photograph of a Mayor on a local county website with no text identifying it. A blind person would have no way of knowing the context of the image because screen readers cannot read the image, unless there is a text associated with it.
Recent election related statistics
One of the common problems that vision impaired people encountered was that the election-related news online was not accessible.
- During the 2020 election, 35% of voters with vision impairments were least likely to use any internet-based sources
- 72% of voters with mobility impairments used non-internet based sources
- The number of voters with disabilities sought information from any internet-based source during the 2020 election was 33.9% compared to 37.2% of voters with no disabilities
- 13.6% of voters with disabilities visited the election office website compared to 12.6% of voters with no disabilities
Benefits of Digital Accessibility in Elections
- Ensures voting is accessible to all and thereby increases voter turnout.
- Staying compliant and avoiding costly lawsuits.
- Disabled voters are up-to-date with all election-related information via websites, digital documents etc.
Laws around Accessibility and Elections
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to provide accessible voting aids and services including accessible websites and digital content (such as PDFs, Word, etc.,) to voters with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.
Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)
HAVA has helped in establishing the U.S Election Assistance Commission (EAC). With this act, all Americans with disabilities will be given equal opportunity to vote as freely and independently as other voters.
Rise in Election accessibility –related enforcements
Carey vs. Wisconsin Election Commission
On August 18, 2022, the Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest in Carey v. Wisconsin Election Commission clarifying the obligation to provide assistance to voters with disabilities under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act and Title II of the ADA.
In their motion for preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs argue that Wisconsin law violates Section 208 by barring the assistance they need to return their absentee ballots to be counted and that the ADA requires Wisconsin to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability.
Board of Election Commissioners for the City of St. Louis, Missouri
On Jan. 12, 2021, the Justice Department reached a settlement under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of St. Louis to ensure that St. Louis polling places are accessible during elections to individuals with mobility and vision impairments.
The department also identified that the St. Louis Board fails to provide accessible curb-side voting and auxiliary aids and services, including headphones for some accessible voting machines, and also fails to provide voters with disabilities the same amount of privacy and independence while voting as voters without disabilities.
Under the agreement, the St. Louis Board will begin remediating its voting program. To make its selected polling places accessible, the St. Louis Board will employ temporary measures, such as portable ramps, signage, and propped open doors.
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Local governments have an obligation to ensure that their voting information is ADA compliant in order to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and also ensure voting information is available to all their constituents.