The Rights of Voters with Disabilities
The United States Constitution guarantees every U.S. citizen age 18 or older the right to vote. Our state constitution further defines the right to vote by also requiring voters to be residents of Michigan and registered to vote in their city or township of residence. They must also fulfill Michigan's voter identification requirement. The requirement can be met in two ways: 1) by bringing acceptable ID, such as a Michigan driver's license, personal ID card or other current ID document or 2) by signing an affidavit stating you are not in possession of ID.
Other than city or township residency, identification and age requirements, state and federal laws do not place any other restrictions on the right to vote. Voting allows us to shape public policy and determine who leads our communities, state and nation. Our right to vote is basic to our system of democracy, and depends on all people having full and equal access to the ballot.
Voting at the polls can present a unique set of challenges to people with disabilities. Federal and state laws require Michigan's cities, townships and villages to provide a reasonable number of accessible registration facilities. It is the intent of the law to ensure that voters with disabilities are fully able to exercise their voting rights at the polls. Any action or physical barrier that prevents voters with disabilities from casting a ballot is unacceptable.
To fulfill the intent of the laws, election officials must consider access from outside and inside the polling place. Problems with the physical surroundings such as narrow doorways, stairs, broken pavement and other obstacles outside can prevent voters with disabilities from entering a polling place. Inside a polling place, issues like inadequate lighting and seating, and voting stations that cannot accommodate a person who is seated can further hamper someone's right to vote.
To ensure that proper accessibility is maintained, federal and state laws require polling places to remove or make accommodations for any barriers that prevent voters with disabilities from voting. Care should be taken to ensure that the polling place is accessible - doors should not be blocked, alternatives to stairs such as ramps or elevators should be available, and lighting and seating should be adequate.
To help communities remove these barriers and improve access to polling places, the Michigan Secretary of State's office has awarded over $1 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants to municipalities statewide. Most of the work involved improvements to parking spaces, passenger drop-off areas, interior and exterior paths of travel, building entrances and voting areas.
Inside the polling location, at least one voting station should be adapted to allow a person to vote while seated. In addition, all voters, including voters with disabilities, have access to the AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal in all polling places. The AutoMARK operates like an electronic ink pen. It simply marks the ballot with the voter's choices but does not tally the votes. Once the ballot is marked, it is counted in exactly the same fashion as all other ballots.
The AutoMARK features a touch screen, a keypad marked with Braille, and the opportunity for voters to use their personal sip-puff device, a stylus or a footpad to mark their ballots. The AutoMARK is wheelchair-accessible and is equipped with headphones so that voters may hear the ballot read aloud to them if they wish.
Voters with disabilities who require assistance in casting a ballot may receive assistance from another person, provided that the person assisting the voter is not the voter's employer, agent of that employer or an officer or agent of a union to which the voter belongs.
If you or someone you know requires special access to the polls, it's important to call the clerk's office ahead of time to make sure your voting site is free of obstructions. If your precinct is not accessible, you will be directed to an alternative site that is accessible. For more information, contact your local clerk. Hearing impaired residents with questions may contact the Department of State's Bureau of Elections by TTY at 517-322-1477.