Voting is a fundamental right shared by all Americans. Up until the 1990s with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many individuals with disabilities were excluded from the voting process, a cornerstone of American democracy. Today, the ADA and other federal laws ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to vote.
This year, September 27th is recognized across the country as National Voter Registration Day. For decades, disability advocates fought for equal voting rights. As individuals register to vote, clarification of voting rights for individuals with disabilities is paramount for progressing an accessible and inclusive voting process.
Key issues facing the autism community and other individuals with disabilities in the voting process are competence, legal guardianship and voter assistance. Individuals with disabilities may be excluded from the voting process due to state voter competence laws or because election officials, poll workers, or service providers impose their own voting requirements. Various federal laws prohibit discrimination based on disability in the voting process, primarily the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It is important to remember that every voice and vote matters. Individuals with a developmental or intellectual disability have the right to vote. Individuals living in a developmental center, group home, or other places providing residential have the right to vote. Individuals with a guardian, depending on the terms of the guardianship, have the right to vote.
Individuals with disabilities may require assistance with voting. People with disabilities have the right to get help with voting and to decide who will help them vote. A person with a disability can get help from a friend, family member, caregiver, residential service provider or almost anyone else of his or her choosing except an employer or union member. The person can also ask a poll worker for assistance with voting. Individuals have the right to have someone show how to use the voting machine on Election Day and for extended time to vote.
Many state voting laws require a certain level of competence to vote. These laws vary state to state. If a state chooses to impose a voter-competence requirement, that requirement cannot be so broad that it takes away the right to vote of people who are capable of voting. For example, a voter-competence requirement cannot single out people who have a guardian. In virtually all states, only a court can find that a person is not competent to vote.
AUTISM AND THE RIGHT TO VOTE: Learn more about autism and the right to vote here.
NATIONAL DISABILITY RIGHTS NETWORK: Access the National Disability Rights Network to learn more information on state laws affecting voting for people with disabilities and general voting information.
VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINES BY STATE: Find your state voter deadlines for voter registration here.
A GUIDE TO THE VOTING RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH MENTAL DISABILITIES: Check out this voter guide from the Bazelon Mental Health Law and National disability rights network here.