Election 2016: Access at the Polls

Posted on November 15, 2016

In the weeks and months leading up to the November 2016 Election, Disability Rights Maine worked with individuals with disabilities, their supporters, and state and local officials to make sure people were aware of their voting rights.  We visited vocational clubhouses, held voting fairs, spoke with voting clerks, and hosted demonstrations of Maine’s new accessible voting system, the ExpressVote.  Our goal was to ensure that people with disabilities knew they had a right to vote – independently, at their polling place, on Election Day.

Although we consider our efforts to have been successful, DRM also knows that many individuals still faced barriers when it finally came time to cast their votes.  On Election Day, our staff visited polling places across the state and they witnessed first-hand the lack of accessibility at many of these locations.  We also staffed a voting hotline and assisted a number of individuals who faced the threat of not being able to vote.

Here are just a few examples of inaccessible voting stories that individuals shared with DRM:

  • Physical barriers, including: steps instead of ramps; sidewalks with no curb cuts; high thresholds on doors; and inaccessible routes to/from polling places. 
  • Individuals in facilities who were not able to get to the polls were denied the ability to vote via “Special Circumstance” ballots.
  • Although Maine does not require individual to present an ID when voting, one individual was denied the opportunity to cast a vote because they did not have an ID.  They were not afforded the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, either.
  • A guardian contacted DRM on behalf of an individual who has difficulty reading and was denied voting assistance in a prior election.  The guardian wanted to ensure that this situation did not repeat itself.  With DRM’s assistance, the individual was provided an accommodation and took part in this year’s election.
  • Maine’s new accessible voting system was not without glitches, either.  In some communities, the machines were only set up to cast state and federal ballots.  Individuals who wished to vote in county and/or municipal elections were either denied the opportunity to do so, or had to cast paper ballots.

Disability Rights Maine believes that voters with disabilities have the right to vote independently and privately.  Although the election may be over, DRM continues to work with state and local officials to ensure that voting is accessible for all – always. 

If you experienced issues related to being a voter with a disability during the recent election, Disability Rights Maine would like to talk to you now.  To tell us your story, please contact us at 1-800-452-1948 or via email at rlangley@drme.org.

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