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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Voters have the right to ask for assistance

by // October 10th, 2014

 

Assistance is available for people with disabilities who wish to go to a polling place on Election Day. However, getting into a polling place can be a challenge.

All polling places are required to be accessible to voters with disabilities. This includes clearly marked accessible doors, and curb cuts or ramps where necessary. A polling place is required to have at least one parking space for persons with disabilities clearly marked near the accessible entrance.

Counties, cities and townships are responsible for selecting polling place locations. If there are accessibility issues at a polling place, voters should notify their local election officials. That can be a county, city or township office, depending upon which unit of government oversees elections

It is also appropriate to let a head election judge know if accessibility problems are found at a polling place and even to suggest what changes should be made. Sometimes in a precinct, ward or district, it is difficult to find a public building spot that has good access. If voters with disabilities have ideas on where to move a polling place to in the future, those suggestions should be submitted to local election officials.

Registered voters sign in to get a ballot. Unregistered voters sign in if they register at the polls. It’s OK to ask for assistance when signing in or registering. It is also legal for a registered voter to mark the proper name line with an X or use a signature stamp.

Voters with disabilities who can mark their own ballots should have a voting booth provided for them, in a spot where other voters cannot see their ballots. This is typically done by placing a voting booth on a table, so that a person using a wheelchair or needing to sit down can vote there.

A device called an AutoMark is available for voters with disabilities. It should be in the same general area as the voting booths, but placed in a way that gives privacy to voters.

The AutoMark can display the ballot in large print or with a high-contrast background. It can read the ballot to a voter through headphones. It allows voters to vote through a Braille keypad, touch-screen or sip-and-puff device. It provides privacy and independence to voters who don’t use pens on their ballots. It is not, however, a ballot counter. Votes made through the AutoMark must still be placed in a polling place’s ballot counter or ballot box.

Ballot-marking devices like the AutoMark must be present in every polling place so that all individuals have the same opportunity for access and participation. In Minnesota, the exemption is for townships with fewer than 500 registered voters that are holding stand-alone township elections.

If help is needed marking a ballot, options are available. A voter can bring someone to the polling place for assistance. That helper or assistant can be anyone except an agent of the voter’s employer or union. Nor can a candidate for office be a helper at the polling place.

Ballot-marking devices like the AutoMark must be present in every polling place so that all individuals have the same opportunity for access and participation. In Minnesota, the exemption is for townships with fewer than 500 registered voters that are holding stand-alone township elections.

If help is needed marking a ballot, options are available. A voter can bring someone to the polling place for assistance. That helper or assistant can be anyone except an agent of the voter’s employer or union. Nor can a candidate for office be a helper at the polling place.

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office suggests that any individuals or organizations wanting to provide assistance to voters may consider creating safe- guards to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing. This could include having two individuals provide assistance to voters together.

Any helper is to assist the voter and is not to influence how a person votes. It’s typical for a head judge to ask if the helper is assisting or trying to influence the voter. Influencing a voter is against the law. People who help with ballot marking, whether they are election judges or volunteers who come to a polling place with one voter, have to follow state laws. Helpers cannot share information on how someone has voted.

If a voter cannot communicate his or her choices, helpers cannot mark the ballot. If someone marks a ballot on a voter’s behalf, the voter can legally ask that the ballot be shown privately to an election judge, to confirm that the ballot is correctly marked.

A volunteer helper can only physically mark ballots on behalf of a maximum of three voters each election. Helpers can provide other forms of assistance to an unlimited number of voters (via betsy). There are specific regulations on voter assistance that affect group home and residential facility workers who help residents vote.

A voter can ask the head judge for help with ballot marking. Two election judges from different political parties will be assigned to help the voter mark a ballot. The same state laws apply to election judges as they do to volunteers.

Anyone who cannot physically enter a polling place can ask election judges to bring a ballot to their motor vehicle. Two election judges from different parties will bring voting materials to the voter. This is sometimes called “motor voting.”

Voters can watch an introduction to voting video series that demonstrate the use of accessible voting equipment such as the AutoMark, and what Minnesotans, including voters with disabilities, can expect on Election Day. The series is accessible through American Sign Language, captions and voiceovers. Text and Microsoft Word transcripts of audio content with video descriptions are also included.

This information is offered on the Commission on Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans website. Watch or listen to the series of videos and get other information on upcoming workshops and information sessions, here.

 

 

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