Everything You Need to Know About Voting in November
By Becca Bauer
The right to vote is one of the core ideals that makes the United States what it is today. It is the everyday person's opportunity to help shape the future of not only their life, but also their country. However, for millions of Americans with disabilities, it has been a constant battle to vote, which is the right of every US citizen.
Over the years several laws have been enacted to help eliminate discrimination and disparities many voters with disabilities face in the voting procedures. Most recently, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was passed by the US Congress to address accessibility changes in the voting process and make voting as inclusive as possible, especially for persons with disabilities. HAVA requires that at polling places the entrances, exits and facility must be accessible to individuals with disabilities and offer them the same participation and opportunities as others. Among other things, this act also requires each polling station to provide at least one voting system accessible to those with disabilities, including nonvisual or audio accessibility for people with visual impairment. According to the Georgia Secretary of State, in Georgia the voting system is compliant with the HAVA reforms, and the State is committed to ongoing voting improvements.
Voting is an integral aspect of life that helps an individual make a meaningful contribution to their community, but many Americans take this right for granted.
While there have been great steps in the right direction for improving access for individuals with disabilities to exercise their vote, there are still many barriers they face and improvements that need to be made.
For many in the disability community, it is still very difficult on a variety of levels – transportation, personal support, accommodations, technology, qualified identification, ADA compliance and properly trained staff at polling locations still pose barriers in many cases.
"Today, people with disabilities have greater access to vote than ever before with new accessibility features and policies," said GCDD Executive Director Eric Jacobson. "Although some barriers still exist, the only way to make sure your voice is heard is to VOTE. When we work together and participate as a community, we can initiate positive change."
As November nears, the 2012 presidential race is sure to be a heated contest between the two major political parties' candidates and set to make history. Presidential candidates Barack Obama (D), the current President of the United States, and Mitt Romney (R), former Governor of Massachusetts, will take center stage in a race where the outcome will chart the direction of the country for the next four years.
On November 6, 2012, you hold the power to share your voice and choose the elected leaders who make important decisions on issues that affect you and your community.
Although accessibility in the voting process is improving, finding out where you go, what to do and how to do it, especially for those with disabilities who may need accommodations and support, is critical. The following is a guide on everything you need to know about voting for people with disabilities from the office of the Georgia Secretary of State.
How do I know if I am eligible to vote?
In order to participate in the voting process in Georgia, you must be a citizen of the United States, a legal resident of Georgia and of the county in which you plan to vote and 18 years of age by Election Day. Additionally, to vote on November 6, 2012, you must have been previously registered or filled out a voter registration application by Monday, October 9, 2012. If you are unsure of your registration status, you can check your status through the Secretary of State's website at http://mvp.sos.state.ga.us/ or you may contact your county voter registration office at http://sos.georgia.gov/cgi-bin/countyregistrarsindex.asp. You may also contact the Secretary of State's office at 404.656.2871 or (V/TTY) 656.1787 for information.
How do I know if I am registered to vote?
For a one-stop shop to check your voter registration status, find your designated poll location and directions, early voting locations, have access to mail-in applications and ballots, status, get information on elected officials, registration information on file with the county office and see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, visit "My Voter Page" at http://mvp.sos.state.ga.us/.
Voting at the polling location on election day:
On Election Day, the polling places in Georgia are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. If you are 75 years old or above or have a disability, you can go to the poll locations between 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM and you will not have to wait in line to vote. Simply ask a poll officer to assist you to the front of the line. Each voter must vote at the polling location designated for the precinct the voter lives in. For more information on the location or accessibility of your specific polling location, contact your county elections office or the Secretary of State's office at 404.656.2871 or (V/TTY) 656.1787 for more information.
What if I get to my polling location and need assistance?
There are several options for voters with disabilities who need assistance when they arrive at their polling location. If any person is unable to sign his or her name, unable to see or mark the answers on the ballot, use the voting equipment or cannot enter the voting booth without support, they may bring someone to help them. A voter with a disability can receive support from any individual EXCEPT his or her employer, a representative of his or her employer or a representative of his or her union or a poll worker or poll watcher, who is a resident of the precinct in which the voter needing support is trying to vote in. Voters with disabilities can receive assistance from any other individuals including a mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, friend or child, and each individual assisting the voter with a disability must record his or her name on the elector's voter certificate.
In order to assist each voter properly, the Georgia Secretary of State has a State of Georgia Poll Worker Manual that is a guide for the administration of elections conducted by county election officials for poll workers. This guide outlines good practices for voters with disabilities and how to assist them. Additionally, poll officers and workers are provided training regarding the use of voting equipment, procedures and all aspects of state and federal laws applicable to conducting elections.
For voters with disabilities who do not require support to vote from another individual, but require accommodation in the form of assistive technology, there are accessible touch screen voting equipment options provided at the polls that allow for assistance but give more privacy and independence to select your choices. These options include:
- An audio ballot is available for those with visual impairment or who are blind, using headphones and a number keypad similar to an automated phone service.
- A magnifying feature is available on every touch screen voting unit in Georgia that allows you to enlarge the print on the ballot.
- Every polling place in Georgia provides at least one touch screen voting unit that allows a voter to vote while sitting in a chair or wheelchair.
What do you need to vote?
Be sure to show up to your polling location prepared to vote. You must bring photo identification. The acceptable forms of photo identification include:
- A Georgia driver's license, even if expired.
- Any valid state or federal issued photo ID, including a free voter ID card issued by your County Registrar's Office or by the Georgia Dept. of Driver Services (DDS).
- Valid US passport.
- Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency or entity of the US government, Georgia or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this State.
- Valid US military photo ID.
- Valid tribal photo ID.
What do I do if I do not have qualified identification?
For many in the disability community, not having qualified identification or a driver's license is often a barrier to the voting process. This has long been a controversial issue within the community and many feel it is burdensome. While improvements need to be addressed for this issue, if you fall in this category, you can get either a FREE Georgia Identification Card for voting purposes only from the Department of Driver Services or a FREE Georgia Voter Identification Card at
your County Registrar's Office.
In order to get a Georgia Voter Identification Card, you will need the following:
- A photo identity document or a non-photo identity document showing your full legal name and date of birth.
- Documentation showing your date of birth.
- Evidence you are registered to vote in Georgia; and
- Documentation showing your name and the address of principal residence
For more information visit, http://sos.georgia.gov/cgi-bin/countyregistrarsindex.asp to find your County's Registrar's Office or visit the Georgia Department of Driver Services website at www.dds.ga.gov/drivers/dldata.aspx?con=1749371755&ty=dl.
Are there other options to voting on election day?
In Georgia, there are a couple of ways to submit your vote without ever having to battle the crowds on Election Day. Any voter can request a mail-in ballot without having to provide a reason. To request a mail-in ballot, visit http://sos.georgia.gov/elections/elections/voter_information/absentee.htm and print out the application form. Once you fill out your form, you can mail, fax or take the form in person to your local County Board of Registrar's Office. It is important to request your mail-in ballot and return it as soon as possible to ensure it is received by the deadline, which is the close of the polls on the actual Election Day. If you have a disability and need support to read and/or write your forms, you may get help when filling out your mail-in ballot application and the absentee/advance ballot form you will receive. Any person who assists an individual in his or her vote, must sign an oath that is printed either on the mail-in ballot envelope or on the application for mail-in-ballot, whichever is applicable.
Georgia also offers it citizens the option to vote in person at the polls before the big rush on Election Day. Early/advance voting is easy and convenient, since it allows you to vote on a day and time that works for you. For the schedule of early voting, visit http://sos.ga.gov/elections/countycontacts/AdvanceVotingDisplay.aspx for more information.
Additionally, on Election Day, the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) will offer a hotline from 7 AM to 7 PM for voters with disabilities who feel they have been discriminated against, have complaints, questions or are unclear on anything. To reach the hotline, call 404.885.1234.
Because there are so many factors and rules to take into consideration when casting your vote, knowing the ins and outs of the voting process before Election Day will help make sure your vote is counted.
"We need to make certain there are no obstacles placed upon people with disabilities to keep them from voting," said Jacobson. "Together, people with disabilities comprise a huge voting group, and it's important to come together and exercise our power."
Voting is one of our most important rights and civic duties as citizens living in a democracy. Many have fought and even died to uphold this privilege. For the disability community, it's important to continually challenge the barriers to voting and not be forgotten as a critical voting block. When you participate in the voting process, you are paving the path for improvement. As the old saying goes, "Every vote counts," so make certain you take the opportunity to help decide your future on November 6.
Get to Know the Candidates and Their Stances on Policies Supporting People with Disabilities
Barack Obama: President Obama, running as the Democratic presidential candidate, has served as the 44th President of the United States since 2008 with Joe Biden as his Vice President. Starting his political career in 1996, he served as a senator in Illinois until his presidency. According to Obama's campaign website, throughout his term as president, some of Obama's accomplishments for improving the rights of people with disabilities include the signing of the Affordable Care Act to stop insurance companies from denying coverage on pre-existing conditions or disabilities and increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) state grants and other IDEA programs that help youth with disabilities receive education and training to compete for jobs in their communities.
According to the Democratic National Committee's platform agenda, "President Obama and the Democratic Party will continue to lead efforts to facilitate access of Americans with disabilities to the middle class, employment opportunities and the ability to lead full, productive, satisfying lives. We will continue to oppose all efforts to weaken the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, and we will vigorously enforce laws that prevent discrimination." To learn more about the Democratic Party's national platform, click here and for more information on President Obama, visit www.barackobama.com/people-with-disabilities/.
Mitt Romney: Governor Romney is running as the Republican presidential candidate with Paul Ryan as his prospective Vice President. After spending much of his career in the private sector and founding the investment firm Bain Capital, Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003.
According to the Republican National Committee platform, the GOP focuses support on education for students with disabilities and programs to increase employment opportunities for those with disabilities. Specifically, the Republican agenda addresses funding for special education that will follow students to schools of their choice and calls for states to have more control of Medicaid offerings for people with disabilities. Overall, "We renew our commitment to the inclusion of Americans with disabilities in all aspects of our national life," the Republican platform says. To learn more information on the party's platform, click here and for more information on Romney, visit www.mittromney.com/.
The Candidates go Head-to-Head on their Visions for Disability Issues
The National Forum on Disability Issues on September 28 in Columbus, OH allowed the 2012 Presidential candidates to share their positions on disability issues directly to the disability community. In front of more than 80 disability and aging advocacy organizations, Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, Jr., representing President Obama and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), representing Mitt Romney, presented the two presidential campaigns visions on policies and matters relating to Americans with disabilities.
Both Kennedy and McMorris had personal connections to the forum – at the age of 12, Kennedy lost a leg to bone cancer, and McMorris has a 5-year-old son with Down syndrome. The representative addressed issues that many Americans with disabilities have expressed concerns and interest in learning more on healthcare and Medicaid coverage, community employment, independent living and
access to higher education.
Additionally, President Obama taped a message for the disability community, which was shown before the representatives addressed the forum and will have been released nationwide by the time of printing.
To learn more information on the forum, visit www.nfdi.org/
" Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does." – Justin Dart Jr., a leader of the international disability rights movement and regarded as the "father" of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
And, did you know there still may be some states that have laws that can limit people with disabilities from voting. Check out an article, "Keeping the 'Mentally Incompetent' from Voting," by the Atlantic Monthly.