(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Today, Representatives Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) introduced the Accessible Voting Act, the House companion to a bill introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), to expand voting rights for older Americans and Americans with disabilities.
This year, almost a quarter of the electorate will be 65 years old or older and an estimated 14.3 million citizens with disabilities reported voting in November 2018. Despite federal laws requiring fully accessible voting places, barriers for people with disabilities and older adults still exist, suppressing their right to vote.
“When it comes to voting rights, older Americans and Americans with disabilities are often overlooked, as are the barriers preventing them from making their voices heard at the ballot box, said Rep. Scanlon. “Every day, but particularly during this pandemic, we must ensure that every eligible voter has access to the ballot and can vote safely. The Accessible Voting Act will make it easier for older Americans and Americans with disabilities to get voting information, request their mail-in ballots, access voter registration and absentee ballot applications, and will support states to make that happen.”
“The Accessible Voting Act is absolutely essential for the 14 million people living with disabilities, for the quarter of the population that is now over age 65, for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, indigenous peoples, and others who have traditionally faced accessibility obstacles, language barriers, and discrimination within our voting system,” said Rep. Raskin. “I’m proud our legislation will address these systemic deficiencies so we can make sure everyone is able to vote regardless of a disability, where you live, or what language you speak.”
“The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy, but that right is under threat due to barriers that prevent or make it hard for seniors and people with disabilities to cast their ballots,” said Sen. Casey. “The Accessible Voting Act would remove the barriers and ensure the full process of voting—from registering to vote, to casting a ballot in person or by mail—is accessible for everyone.”
“Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, inaccessible polling places and voting booths, limited access to transportation, insufficient options for casting ballots, and inaccessible voter information websites were all obstacles to voting for millions of Americans,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues for millions of Americans and underscores the importance of removing the barriers confronting the aging and disability communities when casting a ballot. The Accessible Voting Act would help ensure that we remove barriers to voting for citizens with disabilities, seniors, Native Americans, and those with limited English proficiency. Our democracy works best when all citizens can make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
A study by the Government Accountability Office found that combined deficiencies in architectural and voting booth access resulted in only 17 percent of polling places being fully accessible in 2016. Many older Americans have difficulties with mobility, are unable to secure transportation to the polls and have found polling places inaccessible. Of the 36 million Americans who are 65 years and older, 18 million need some form of assistance with daily activities.
The Accessible Voting Act will:
- Establish the Office of Accessibility within the Election Assistance Commission to support and oversee state efforts to expand voter accessibility and serve as a resource for advocates and voters
- Establish a new state grant program for the Office of Accessibility to administer for the improvement of accessibility when registering to vote, voting by absentee ballot and casting a ballot in person
- Provide up-to-date voting information and resources, through easily accessible websites, to ensure voters know how to register to vote, cast an absentee ballot and are able to find help if their right to vote is challenged
- Expand the number of options to cast a ballot in federal elections to ensure older voters and voters with disabilities can utilize the voting option most accessible for them
- Create a national resource center on accessible voting to conduct cultural competency training for election officials and poll workers to create truly accessible voting systems
- Re-authorize grants to states, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to improve voting accessibility for older Americans and people with disabilities
The Accessible Voting Act has received support from the following organizations: American Association of People with Disabilities, American Civil Liberties Union, The Arc of the United States, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Campaign Legal Center, Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly, Center for American Progress, Center for Civic Design, Diverse Elders Coalition, End Citizens United Action Fund, Five Cedars Groups, Inc, Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, League of Women Voters, NAACP, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Council on Aging, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation of the Blind, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Progressive Turnout Project, and the United Spinal Association.
“No one should be denied the right to vote due to disability, age, or minority status. The Accessible Voting Act would expand voting access for millions of Americans who continue to encounter unique barriers to exercising their right to vote,” said Sonia Gill, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU. “Specifically, the bill establishes new protections and improves access for communities frequently disenfranchised, including voters with disabilities and older Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and language minority voters. 1 in 4 American adults has a disability, and a similar portion of our population is age 60 or older. Yet, in 2016, 83 percent of polling places surveyed did not meet accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our democracy works best when every eligible voter can cast their ballot and have their voice heard. The Accessible Voting Act moves us forward towards that goal.”
A copy of the bill text can be found here.