Voters with Disabilities Guide to Election Day
Before you vote in the next election, learn more about voting in Pennsylvania. This guide will examine the options available to help voters with disabilities vote privately and independently.
To vote in the United States you must answer “yes” to three questions:
- 1) Are you an U.S. citizen?
- 2) Will you be 18 years or older on the date of the election?
- 3) Are you registered to vote?
If you can answer “yes” to those questions, then you are qualified to vote. The right to vote is a privilege that Americans of all races, sex, genders, and religions have fought to obtain. With the right to vote comes responsibility. This responsibility to cast your vote on Election Day can be nerve-wracking and exciting for anyone. As Election Day approaches voters with disabilities need to be prepared for Election Day challenges that may arise. To make sure that you feel confident and ready to exercise your right as an American citizen we’ve put together an Election Day Guide for Pennsylvania residents.
Are there new requirements because of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law?
Pennsylvania’s restrictive Voter ID law was struck down as being unconstitutional. Only voters who will be voting for the first time at a precinct need to show any form of ID. First time voters can bring any of these acceptable forms of identification: driver’s license, U.S. passport, military ID, student ID, employee ID, any ID issued by the U.S. government. You can see a list of permissible forms of ID here: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Pages/First-Time-Voter.aspx.
How do I register to vote?
You may already be registered! Check your voter registration status at www.votesPA.com/status or contact your County Board of Elections at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) If you are not registered, there are a number of ways that you can register to vote:
Download a form to be delivered in person or by mail: https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/documents/VoterApplication_English.pdf
In Person: You can register in person at your county voter registration office. To find your office go to: www.votespa.com/county
Additionally, you can register at any PA public assistance agency or state-funded service agencies.
By Mail: Download and print the above form, complete, sign, and mail to your county voter registration office: www.votespa.com/county
Note: The Deadline to register to vote or change your address is 30 days before the election.
How do I find my polling place and make sure that it is accessible?
If you are a registered voter in Pennsylvania, your polling place will appear on your confirmation issued by the County Voter Registration Office. You can also locate your polling place online at www.votespa.com/pollingplace, which will tell you whether it is officially designated as accessible or not. If it does not say online, then contact your local County Board of Elections.
When are the polls open on Election Day?
The polls are open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. If you are in line when the polls close, you are entitled to vote.
What if I need help operating the voting machine, or doing something as I sign in to vote? Can I ask for help, or have someone help me?
As a person with a disability you have the right to bring any person of your choice to assist you in the voting process, provided that person is not a Judge of Elections, the voter’s union representative or employer. If you need assistance, but didn’t bring anyone with you, you can ask for assistance from one of the poll workers or another voter.
You do not need to be designated in the poll book-district register as “assistance permitted” to receive this assistance.
However, if you need assistance, you must sign an Assistance Declaration, unless the poll book already indicates “assistance permitted.” You also have the right to refuse assistance. Upon registering to vote there is a box that you can check to inform that you will need assistance, you can download the form here: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/voting-and-elections/be-prepared/Documents/Declaration%20of%20Need%20of%20Assistance_generic.pdf.
Voters with disabilities who are assigned to inaccessible polling places are eligible to cast an Alternative Ballot.
Important to note, the normal deadline to file an application for an Alternative Ballot is the Tuesday before Election Day (it is best to do this earlier). Download the form here: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Documents/Alternative_Ballot_Application.pdf.
However, if you did not know that your polling place is inaccessible, or you had some good cause for not being able to file by that deadline, you can still vote. The PA Department of State created procedures for an Emergency Application for an Alternative Ballot, which may be filed as late as Election Day at 8:00 PM at your County Elections Office.
Note: The process to file an Emergency Application for an alternative ballot is extremely time consuming and involves travel. If you are unable to travel to the County Elections Office on Election Day, you can choose a friend or relative to act as your agent to travel back and forth to the County Elections Office. Note that you will need to prepare three forms:
- Emergency Application for Alternative Ballot: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Documents/EmergencyAbsenteeApplication-After5onFriday.pdf
- Designated Agent Form: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Documents/Designated%20Agent%20Form.pdf
- Certification of Designated Agent Form: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Documents/Certification%20of%20Designated%20Agent.pdf
Another option, if your polling place is not accessible, is to apply to a permanent absentee ballot: http://www.votespa.com/en-us/Documents/PermABApplication.pdf.
Remember, planning ahead will help you identify possible transportation, parking, and other accessibility needs.
Can my right to vote be challenged? What if someone says that I’m not competent?
Yes, but only for certain reasons and by certain people. A poll worker, poll watcher, or other voter may only challenge a voter on the grounds that the voter does not live in the precinct or the voter is not the person the voter says he is.
No one can challenge your right to vote based on your disability. Pennsylvania law does not restrict the right to vote of people who have developmental, mental health, or physical disabilities. In rare instances, Courts issue orders depriving people of the right to vote, but so far “electors” in Pennsylvania cannot be challenged on competence, ability, or worthiness to vote.
Who can I call on Election Day if I’m prevented from exercising my right to vote?
Call the Election Protection hotline at 1-866-OURVOTE (1-866-687-8683), Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania 1-800-692-7443, or the PEAL Center 1-866-950-1040.
Voting is your right. Don’t leave the polls without voting!
This article was written for the PEAL Center’s Fall 2016 Newsletter. Read the full newsletter here.