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. 

Voters  with disabilities have the right to vote at home or in person. New for 2020, blind voters and others with severe disabilities that prevent them from voting absent voter ballots privately and independently can apply for an accessible absent voter ballot. The accessible ballot allows voters to mark the documents on an electronic device, using their own assistive technology, without visiting a polling place or clerk’s office.

There are multiple ways to apply for an accessible absent voter ballot. The accessible electronic absent voter ballot is a PDF that does not work with the Apple VoiceOver screen reader. You can request an accessible HTML ballot that works with Apple VoiceOver by submitting an application for an accessible ballot, then sending an email requesting an HTML ballot to elections@michigan.gov. Voters with a Michigan driver's license or State ID can apply for an accessible absent voter ballot using the online application tool at Michigan.gov/Vote. Voters can also find a fillable accessible application to vote absentee at the site by clicking the link to download an application or the submenu for absentee voting. Voters can find the application directly at: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Michigan_Accessible_Electronic_Absent_Voter_Ballot_Application_August_695058_7.pdf

Voters with disabilities can also visit their local clerk’s office to request an absent voter ballot in person. Voters are advised to contact their clerk’s office in advance to verify that the office will be open, as some offices continue to have limited in-person hours due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

All voters, including voters with disabilities, also have the right to vote in person at polling places. Other than city or township residency, citizenship, and age requirements, state and federal laws do not place any other restrictions on the right to vote. Voters who appear to vote in person will be asked to show photo ID. If voters do not have ID, they can sign an affidavit and vote a regular 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.

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 a Voter Assist Terminal in all polling places. The Voter Assist Terminal helps the voter mark a ballot. It will mark 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.

Voter Assist Terminals are made by one of three different election vendors. You can find out which election vendor your county uses on our website. Guides to the Voter Assist Terminals for each vendor are available at these links: The Dominion system is available on this page. The ES&S system is available at on this page. Hart is available on this page. You can learn more about this equipment by visiting the Voting Equipment webpage, or by visiting the Michigan Voter Information Center website.

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 is 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 email at Elections@Michigan.gov.