Category Archives: 2020 Accessibility

MA Voting Legislation 2020

The big question in 2020 is how can everyone vote safely?

Update June 9, 2020:

Safe voting remains a question.  Massachusetts legislators and Secretary of State Galvin are working hard implement Vote by Mail, extend early voting and add some weekend voting hours at the polling sites. On June 4, 2020, House Bill 4768 was passed and engrossed (To engross a bill is to pass it and send it to the other branch). This bill instructs the Secretary of State to mail all voters an application for a Vote By Mail ballot. It also extends early voting hours. 

Rep. Kay Khan added an amendment to accommodate disabilities which was adopted on Friday, June 4: malegislature.gov/Bills/GetAmendmentContent/191/H4768/15/House/content This amendment allows a voter who needs an accommodation to vote by mail to request an accommodation. The amendment also requires the Secretary of State to grant accommodations that include, but are not limited to, a blank, electronic ballot that can be filled electronically and then printed. The concerns associated with the ballot are the need for the electronic system to be accessible and the need for accommodations for people that do not have access to a printer.

Here is the status as of May 19, 2020.

Massachusetts, like many other states, is scrambling to make sure Vote by Mail will be available for the upcoming September and November elections.  On Thursday, May 14, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws held a virtual hearing to hear bills relative to election administration in response to COVID-19. Some of the options provided by these election bills are summarized below.  Each option includes extended days for early voting at location(s) in each city or town.  The bills aim to provide a safe voting environment for  many voters, but not for all voters with disabilities.

  • S2654 – Senator Rausch: This Act would establish vote by mail in 2020. A ballot package would be mailed out to every registered voter; an electronic web portal would allow voters unenrolled in a political party to request a primary election ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; a person with a physical disability or a non-English speaker could ask for help in filling out the ballot; and, ballots would be certified and mailed in.  H4699 – Representative Roy: This bill mirrors Senator Rausch’s bill on the House side.
  • S2653 – Senator Creem: This Act relates to voting by mail and early voting Election law. Any qualified voter who wants to vote early can file an application or send in a written request for an early voting ballot; ballots are mailed out by local election officials; and, an early voting ballot can be substituted for an absentee ballot.

While these bills were specifically listed on the MA Joint Committee on Election Laws Hearing website, Representative Roy has also filed H4721 which has been referred to the committee on election laws by the House and Senate. This bill sets out to do the following:

  • H4721 – Representative Roy:  This Act relates to early voting and voting by mail in 2020. The Secretary of State would be required to mail out an application packet to every registered voter at the address listed in the registry no less than 40 days in advance of a schedule state primary OR state election; the packet would contain an application for an early vote by mail ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; and, any qualified voter wanting to early vote by mail would be allowed to file with the voter’s local election official an application for an early voting ballot for the 2020 State Primary and / or General State Election. The Act requires the Secretary of State to implement a system for receiving requests for voting by mail, both electronically via web portal and in hard copy via postal mail. The Act also sets up early voting time frames and in-person voting hours that provides an opportunity to vote, in person, at least one evening each week and one Saturday during both the primary and state election. Finally, the Act states that no later than twenty-eight days before every primary, preliminary election or election, the city or town clerk shall send to each voter whose name appears on the permanently disabled voters’ list an application for an absent voting ballot, and the clerk would be able to complete the application as much as possible except for the voter’s signature.

Questions & concerns with these proposals and the health/safety of voters are:

  • Should the state or towns mail out applications and ballots?  The state has more resources to accomplish this task and would provide consistency across the state.  However, most aspects of voting have always been at the local level.
  • How will towns handle this huge wave of envelopes?  Will additional poll workers be hired to process mail in votes?
  • Who will pay for the additional costs of mailings and expense of additional town workers?
  • Can the post office handle the volume of mail-in ballots?  The post office has been under attack and is a key component in all of these proposals.
  • How can the AutoMark machine be kept safe and sanitized on an ongoing basis if in person voting is allowed?
  • Being that in person voting will also be allowed, how will the polling sites be staffed? How will social distancing requirements be enforced? How do we accommodate people with disabilities under the new CDC safety guidelines?
  • Are there enough supplies in the supply chain to enable local municipalities to abide by CDC & DPH guidelines to regularly clean the polling sites, the equipment?
  • Who will work with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Department of Public Health to make sure that guidance for town clerks are redeveloped to include public health guidelines?

Voting mechanisms in other states:

  • Voting Apps for people with disabilities and overseas voters
  • Drive By voting

Voters with disabilities:

The current legislative proposals do not address accessibility concerns for visually impaired voters and voters who are unable to vote independently.  While the AutoMark machine  accommodates and provides independence to voters with disabilities, COVID-19 will make it physically impossible for voters to use the machine as an accommodation.   In some states, electronic voting has been implemented (where a voter could use their screen reader or other assistive device to vote on their home computer or phone).  However, there needs to be an accessible alternative available to voting in person during COVID-19. People who are blind should have equal access to the ballot and should be able to vote independently in an accessible format. Remote accessible formats allow blind voters to vote independently while safely abiding with social distancing requirements. It is imperative for MA to move quickly during the next six (6) weeks in order to ensure an electronic, accessible voting system for blind registered voters.

While the adoption of  vote by mail and extended early voting, will reduce crowds at polling sites and will technically , make in-person voting on AutoMark machines safer, the disability community should not be required to put their health and safety in peril while non-disabled voters are allowed to vote from home. Voters with disabilities should not be disenfranchised from the voting process due to inaccessible mail in ballots. It is up to Massachusetts to protect the health and welfare of all of its voters and not just some.
 

Bills:

On May 14, Senator Barry Finegold held a hearing on Vote by mail and 3 proposed bills (malegislature.gov).  The 4 hour hearing is still available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BarryFinegoldMA.

Disability issues were brought up at the hearing.
 

Summary:

Voting as usual will certainly not be safe in September, and is unlikely to be safe in November, so legislators have to agree on something.

POWER THE DISABILITY VOTE Summit

Register for this free, virtual summit on June 22 and June 23.

WASHINGTON, DC – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the disability community is mobilizing. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to announce POWER the Disability Vote, a national, non-partisan Disability & Election Virtual Summit. On Monday & Tuesday, June 22 and 23 from noon to 3:45 pm ET on both days and will include panels, presentations, and a national call-to-action to mobilize disability voters and allies.

Disability groups across America are staring down the pandemic with a big question: given COVID-19’s impact on Americans with disabilities and growing numbers of voters who will acquire disabilities, will the Disability Vote be among the deciding factors in the 2020 Election?

YES – According to a 2018 Rutgers University study, 14.3 million people with disabilities voted in 2018, 49.3% of eligible voters with disabilities, compared with 40.8% in 2014. In 2020, over 35 million eligible voters will be people with disabilities, not counting those that may acquire a disability as a result of COVID-19. That number increases to at least 62.7 million when adding voters who have a household member with a disability.

“The surge in turnout among our increasingly visible, vocal, and active voting bloc is only one reason that we need to continue to build the power of the disability vote,” said AAPD President and CEO Maria Town. “We’re also thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed significant gaps and weaknesses in public systems on which people with disabilities, among many others, rely. If elected officials, including the President, want to be elected, and expect our votes, they must address our issues.”

Last year, AAPD began organizing the Summit to galvanize a recent trend among Americans with disabilities: an 8.5% surge in voter turnout in 2018.

AAPD has organized these voters since 2016 through their REV UP (Register! Organize! Vote! Use your Power!) campaign. Currently, over 30 states have partnered with the REV UP network. With the participation of these state coalitions, plus hundreds of Americans with disabilities and the organizations that represent them, AAPD’s POWER Summit will push the Disability Vote forward as the deciding factor of the 2020 Elections.

For information on POWER The Disability Vote, visit https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/revup-summit/. This event was originally scheduled for January 13, 2020 as Elected for Inclusion – the Presidential Forum on Disabilities Issues.

AAPD is a convener, connecter, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As one of the leading national cross-disability civil rights organizations, AAPD advocates for the full recognition of rights for the over 60 million Americans with disabilities. AAPD’s programs and initiatives have been effective in mobilizing the disability community through communications advocacy; cultivating and training new and emerging leaders with disabilities through leadership development programs; increasing the political participation of Americans with disabilities and elevating the power of the disability vote through the REV UP (Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!) Campaign; and advancing disability inclusion in the workplace through the Disability Equality Index (DEI) — the nation’s leading corporate benchmarking tool for disability equality and inclusion. To learn more about AAPD, visit www.aapd.com.

AAPD’s REV UP Campaign aims to increase the political participation of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. AAPD works with state and national coalitions on effective, non-partisan campaigns to address the concerns of people with disabilities, eliminate barriers to voting, promote accessibility of voting; educate communities about issues and candidates; promote turnout of voters with disabilities across the country; and engage candidates and the media on disability issues. 

2020 Presidential Forum on Disability Issues in January

Tickets are on sale now for AAPD’s forum on January 13, 2020 in Austin Texas. Tickets are only $10 and can be purchases here: https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/2020-presidential-forum-on-disability-issues/.

We have not yet seen a list of participants or a schedule for the event.

Learn more about the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

Disability Policy Questions for Candidates

From the Center for American Progress:

Interestingly, the Center for American Progress is not a disability organization. Read the article by Rebecca Coakley on October 15, 2019: 10 Disability Policy Questions Every Presidential Candidate Should Answer.

The questions are listed here, but read the whole article for more context.

  1. It is still legal for disabled people to earn pennies an hour thanks to a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act. How will you close it and help these works transition to the fairly paid workplace?
  2. Adding asset limits and work requirements to programs that help people with disabilities and their families access food, housing, and health care means that folks in need are constantly on the edge of economic instability. How would you address this?
  3. Almost 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 60 percent to 80 percent of polling places still remain inaccessible, leaving most disabled Americans unable to access the ballot box or see who they actually voted for. What would you do to increase access to democratic institutions for people with disabilities?
  4. Many candidates have talked about the need to invest in infrastructure. Clearly, this is important. In the past, accessibility has not been part of the conversation from the beginning, which has resulted in a persistent lack of access. What specifically would you to do ensure that accessibility and inclusion are included in your plan for the nation’s infrastructure and the jobs that come with it?
  5. How would you create a system of long-term services and supports that sustains the rights of disabled Americans to live in their homes as well as lifts up and supports the domestic workforce?
  6. Natural disasters are all too common, and climate change disproportionately affects the disability community. What is your plan for ensuring that disability issues and the community are front and center in your planning and execution of emergency management planning and your climate agenda?
  7. In more than 20 states, parents with disabilities can lose custody of their children largely on the basis of a disability diagnosis. How would you change this?
  8. Lack of affordable and accessible housing continues to be a significant impediment to people with disabilities and their families achieving economic security What changes would you implement to remedy this?
  9. What policies would your administration advance to improve access to quality affordable mental health care and protect the civil rights of people with mental illness?
  10. Children with disabilities, especially those who are also people of color, often have unequal access to educational resources, despite the law guaranteeing such access. What will your administration do differently?

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 Needs Your Help

Democracy Diverted – Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote – September 2019

This report from The Leadership Conference Education Fund details the creation by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its Section 5 Amendment (See below). This law discouraged much of the racism previously associated with voting rights. In 2013, Section 5 was dismantled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Shelby decision. Since Shelby, polling location closures have skyrocketed.

” Closing polling places has a cascading effect, leading to long lines at other polling places, transportation hurdles, denial of language assistance and other forms of in-person help, and mass confusion about where eligible voters may cast their ballot. For many people, and particularly for voters of color, older voters, rural voters, and voters with disabilities, these burdens make it harder — and sometimes impossible — to vote.”

” One of the more alarming trends we discovered is a widespread practice of blaming polling place closures on another civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The leading closers of polling places from Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana used ADA compliance as their major pretext. In several cases, little to no effort was made to understand ADA compliance. Instead, election officials took advantage of the public’s lack of understanding about the law to grossly inflate the estimated costs of compliance for both publicly and privately owned polling places .”

Recommendation:

“…restore the Voting Rights Act, reactivate Section 5, and strengthen its other provisions that require elected officials to seek the input of communities of color and provide notice of any polling place change for any reason. “

In other words, your vote matters. Without the VRA, it is too easy for election officials to discriminate against specific types of voters. Talk to the candidates about the Voting Rights Act, Section 5 and how important it is for every single voter to be able to vote!

Section 5

Jurisdictions with a demonstrated record of racial discrimination in voting were required to submit all proposed voting changes to the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for “preclearance” in advance of implementation. The jurisdictions were required to prove that the proposed voting change would not deny or adversely affect the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or an eligible voter’s membership in a language minority group.