I have a friend and fellow self-advocate who had a difficult time during the 2020 Presidential Election. He went to his local polling place to cast his vote. Unfortunately, he kept messing up because he had a difficult time reading and understanding the directions. The moderator allowed him three tries to cast his vote and he repeatedly filled out the forms! Finally, he left the polling place in frustration and his vote was never counted. What are his rights in this situation? Is there more that my friend could have done to make the process easier?
John, thank you for this important and very timely question since local elections will be held on November 7th. I am sorry your friend’s vote was not counted, because there are several voting safeguards in New Hampshire that would have been a help to him. It is important to know that each polling place in New Hampshire is required by law to be equipped with an accessible voting system for federal elections. The system, called “one4all,” can assist voters with a disability to mark a ballot independently and privately at every primary and general election. It is available for use by any voter with or without a disability. Unfortunately, the system is not used for local elections statewide; Concord and Exeter are the only two where it's available for non-federal elections. Because disabilities do not disappear during local elections, it is possible to make a formal complaint about this issue at your mayor’s office. Contact the Disability Rights Center NH for assistance.
The one4all voting system is a tablet attached to a printer. The voter uses headphones to ensure their privacy. They can choose to use a keyboard with bright yellow keys, or a touch screen to fill in their ballot. An election official provides the voter with instructions on using this system. A recent improvement is that the printed ballot now looks the same as any other, so it will be counted in the same manner as all other election-day ballots. Using this system is important because it illustrates the need for everyone to be able to vote independently and privately, especially because it is our constitutional right.
At any polling place, your friend had the right to tell the moderator that he needed help reading the ballot so he could be assisted. The voting laws also allow for your friend to bring along someone to help. This helper cannot be an employer or union representative. They would be sworn in by the moderator and would then fill in the ballot as directed by the voter.
All polling places are required to be physically accessible. But if a voter is unable to enter the building, an election official will assist them by providing an absentee ballot to them in their vehicle parked curbside. They would be asked to seal their ballot in an envelope, where they would check off the reason for voting absentee. Then you place it in a second envelope and the official brings it into the polling place, where it will be processed and counted in the same manner as all other absentee ballots. Although absentee voting can be used by any resident of New Hampshire, curbside voting is reserved for voters with disabilities who cannot get into the building due to an unforeseen issue.
Our disabilities should be a major reason we vote because disability issues are community issues. One in every four New Hampshire residents identifies as having a disability. If we came together as a community and used the power of our voices, we could solve countless issues such as workforce issues, inclusion, and access to quality healthcare. Less than sixty years ago, people with disabilities were denied the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal to discriminate. Since then, things have gotten better but we still have a lot of work to do. So, in the immortal words of Justin Dart (Father of the ADA)
“Vote as if your life depends on it . . . because it does!”
For more information on voting laws for New Hampshire citizens with disabilities check out the NH Secretary of State's web site.