Making Disability Votes Count
Prepared by Ruth Thompson
It’s hard to identify a group more directly impacted by the outcome of elections than people with disabilities. But disabled voters can face barriers to voting that most people don’t realize. In the U.S. we know that in 2016 there are 35 million eligible voters who have disabilities-that’s larger than the Latino and Asian vote combined. But these voters feel largely ignored by candidates and even their own political party. The best way for us to get the attention we deserve is to turn out and vote.
Who can vote?
Voting is the right of any citizen who is 18 years old and a resident of Iowa. People with intellectual disabilities or mental illness can vote, even if they have a guardian or conservator, unless as a judge has specifically said in a court ruling that you cannot vote. People who have been convicted of a felony cannot vote unless they have completed the process required to have voting rights restored.
Registering to vote:
It’s best to register in advance, but in Iowa you can register to vote as late as Election Day as long as you bring identification that has a picture of you and an expiration date. This includes a driver’s license, passport, military ID, ID issued by an employer or student ID. You also need proof of where you live. If it’s not on your picture ID, bring a lease, utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document that has your name and address on it.
You can vote without leaving your home if you request an absentee ballot. You can do this at the website sos.iowa.gov. You should do this as early as possible to make sure that you get your ballot in time. The request form must be received by your county auditor’s office by the Friday before the election.
When you receive your ballot, if you want to mail it back you should do that as soon as you get it to make sure it gets counted on Election Day. If you return your ballot by mail, it must be postmarked by the Monday before the election and received in the county auditor’s office no later than noon on the Monday following the election. Otherwise it will not be counted.
If you don’t return your absentee ballot before Election Day, you can deliver it to your county auditor’s office before the polls close or exchange it for an uncompleted ballot at your polling location.
If you want to vote in person but want to avoid crowds, each county has opportunities to vote early. Call your auditor’s office to learn more about early voting.
If you want to vote in person on Election Day, these are just a few accommodations to help you vote:
- Curbside voting: If you are unable to enter the building where the polling place is located because of disability you can request curbside voting. You will be asked to sign a form that says you have requested this accommodation and two election officials, one from each party, will bring your ballot and election supplies out to you so that you can mark it in your car. Accessible voting machines: There are four different types of accessible voting machines being used in Iowa. It’s a good idea to go to https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/covotesystem.pdf and look up your county to see which machine your county uses. You can then go to watch a video about how your county’s machine works at: https://sos.iowa.gov/disabilities.html.
- Voting with assistance: If you need help marking or casting the ballot (putting it in the machine), due to disability or you cannot read the English language, you can sign a form indicating you need to vote with assistance. You can choose any person to assist you except your employer, or an agent (someone who works for) your employer or union. If you don’t have anyone of your choosing to assist you, two precinct officials, one from each party, can assist. Anyone other than a precinct official who assists must sign a form indicating that you have requested them to assist you in this way.
It is not required that you call ahead, but it is a good idea to call the county auditor’s office to let them know you’ll be requesting an accommodation, ask if there are times that are less busy at your polling place or even give them an idea of when you will be coming so they can be prepared.
To learn more about voting rights and options:
Iowa Secretary of State’s Office
To share with your county auditor and ensure that you have access to vote:
US Department of Justice ADA Voting Place Checklist
If you have trouble at the polling location on the day of voting (including early voting):
Iowa Voter Protection Hotline