For the 2016 election, I voted prior to Election Day by absentee, traveling to a polling place in my hometown to cast my vote in what was a very important election. My first voting experience is something I will never forget for two reasons- the power was out because of a massive storm that had torn through town a few days earlier, and I found out polling places in Virginia aren’t as accessible as I thought. Here are some of the things that surprised me about voting, and my tips for voting in elections.
There may be no large print or Braille
While there is Braille on drive-up ATMs, there is not Braille or large print on voting ballots in my home state of Virginia. This was a huge surprise to my mom and I, as we assumed that it would be available, especially since we had documented my disability on the voting form. Which leads to what happened next…
Have someone there to assist you
My mom had to sign off on about three different forms to help me cast my vote in the election. This was allowed, as I did not have the ability to read or write on the standard ballot.
There is a check box on the voting form that allows a person to request assistance at the polling location from a staff member. State government organizations like the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired have more resources on this.
Most states allow people with disabilities or special accommodations to vote by absentee. In Virginia, having a disability qualifies someone for being able to receive a ballot, but there is no guarantee it will be in an accessible format.
My absentee ballot
For the 2017 election, I received my ballot long before the deadline, but found that the print size on the ballot was difficult to read. I used a video magnifier that didn’t store images to magnify it and filled it out that way.
Research laws ahead of time
Descriptions of proposed state laws are frequently included on ballots. Not only are the descriptions long, but the wording can be very strange as well. Research these topics ahead of time so the assistant does not have to keep repeating information.
Advocate for accessible voting
After my experience voting in the election, I began to talk more often to my congressmen and senators about increasing accessibility in the election process. I have learned a lot more about how my state government works as a result.
Voting is incredibly important, as is supporting candidates and laws that benefit those with disabilities. By voting in these elections, you are able to support these things and exercise your civic duty. Information for this post comes from the Virginia Department of Elections; each state’s policies vary.