Thanks to Paul O’Hanlon of Disability Rights Network of Pa. for his typically thorough and accurate information and support…
Election Day Survival Kit for Voters with Disabilities
With Election Day coming this Tuesday, voters with disabilities need to be prepared for the challenges you may face. This Survival Kit will provide you with the information you might need to cast your vote and have it counted.
Justin Dart, the “father” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said:
“Vote as if your life depends on it — because it does.”
Most of this message is specific to the laws and voting procedures of Pennsylvania. I encourage you to forward this message to anyone who may be assisted with this information. If you live in a state other than Pennsylvania, please note that some of the laws and procedures in your state may be different.
I’ve attempted to locate the official forms that you might need, and put them in accessible formats.
Since this message is long, here is an outline of what follows:
- Are there new requirements because of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law?
- How do I verify that I am registered to vote?
- How do I locate my correct polling place?
- Will I be required to show I.D. to vote?
- Can I get assistance in the voting booth if I need it?
- What if I find my polling place is inaccessible on Election Day? How can I vote?
- What if the poll worker doesn’t find my name in the book when I go to vote?
- What if my right to vote is challenged? What if someone says I’m not competent to vote?
- New procedures for Emergency Application for Absentee Voting
- Who can I call on Election Day if I’m prevented from voting?
Are there new requirements because of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law?
The new voter ID law in Pennsylvania has been in the news a lot. However, the judge hearing the challenges to the law’s constitutionality has enjoined (postponed) the requirements of that law while the case is being decided. As discussed below, only those voters in the “first-time” categories are required to show some ID.
However, those who vote by Absentee Ballot will be required to provide some additional information because of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law: Absentee Ballot voters will be asked for (1) their driver’s license or non-driver ID number; (2) last 4 digits of social security number; or photocopy of a limited number of acceptable forms of ID.
How do I verify that I am registered to vote?
How do I locate my correct polling place?
This is the official Pennsylvania Department of State website; it will also tell you where your polling place is located and whether it is officially designated as accessible or not. As stated below, if your Election Day experience is that the accessibility information is not accurate, please let the Department of State, your County, and me, know.
Will I be required to show ID to vote?
Only first-time voters, and all voters who are voting for the first time in a precinct, can be required to show an acceptable form of ID. You may be asked – but you are not required to show ID unless you fit into one of these “first-time” categories. This requirement for first-time voters to show ID is from the Help America Vote Act of 2002, and not the Pennsylvania voter ID law. The list of acceptable forms of ID is much larger and much less restrictive than the Pennsylvania voter ID law. You can find a list of acceptable forms of ID here:
If you are required to show ID and you do not have ID when you go to vote (and if returning later with proper ID is not an option) you have a right to vote by a Provisional Ballot. Provisional Ballots receive greater scrutiny than other ballots. However, if you are registered to vote, and if your signature matches the signature on your voter’s signature card, then your Provisional Ballot should get counted. If necessary, casting a Provisional Ballot is much better than not voting at all.
Can I get assistance in the voting booth if I need it?
Voters with disabilities have the right to receive assistance in the voting booth from the person of their choice. The person providing assistance can be almost anyone – a friend, a family member, or even a poll worker. However, the assistant cannot be: (1) the voter’s employer; (2) the voter’s union representative; or (3) the Judge of Elections.
When a voter with a disability requests assistance in the voting booth, the poll worker should look up your registration card to see if it has a notation indicating that you require assistance. If there is no notation on the card, you will be required to complete a written statement explaining the nature of your disability, and why you require assistance. Some voters may be offended at intrusive questions like asking for the name, phone # and address of their doctor. But the poll workers are required to enter all this information, along with the name of the individual who provided assistance, into the “Record of Assisted Voters.” The voting process is a very formal process with many safeguards.
What if I find my polling place is not accessible on Election Day? How can I vote?
Voters with disabilities, as well as seniors 65 and older — who are assigned to inaccessible polling places — are eligible to cast an Alternative Ballot. It is called an “Alternative” ballot because it is a method of voting provided to the voter as an alternative to having an accessible location. (Some deal!)
An Alternative Ballot looks exactly like an Absentee Ballot, but a different colored envelope is used to distinguish it from an Absentee Ballot.
The normal deadline to file an application for an Alternative Ballot is the Tuesday before Election Day. However, if you did not know that your polling place is inaccessible, or if you had some good cause for not being able to file by that deadline – you can still vote! The Pennsylvania 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 p.m. A voter with a disability who discovers on Election Day that their polling place is not accessible can file an Emergency Application for an Alternative Ballot. This Emergency Application must be filed on Election Day, before 8:00 p.m., at your County Elections Office.
What if I can’t get to my County Elections Office on Election Day?
If you are unable to travel to the County Elections Office on Election Day, you can get a friend or relative to act as your agent to travel back and forth to the County Elections Office.
You will need to prepare three forms (which are attached to this message):
(1) the Emergency Application for Alternative Ballot;
(2) the Designated Agent Form; and
(3) the Certification of Designated Agent Form.
What if the poll worker doesn’t find my name in the book when I go to vote?
If the poll worker cannot find your name on the list of registered voters, ask them to look at the list of “inactive voters.” Voters who have not voted for a few elections, or who did not receive or respond to official election mailings have been placed on a list of “inactive voters.” The act of voting will be sufficient to transfer your name from the ”inactive” to the “active” list. If your name cannot be found on either list, and if you are sure you are at the correct polling place – ask for a provisional ballot. Federal law requires that you be provided with a provisional ballot in such a case. Do not leave the polls without casting a vote!
What if my right to vote is challenged on Election Day? What if someone says I’m not competent to vote?
In Pennsylvania, we have only 3 qualifications for a person to register and to vote. The individual must be:
- A citizen of the United States for at least one month before the election;
- A resident of Pennsylvania and the election district for at least 30 days before the election;
- At least 18 years of age on or before the day of the election.
Pennsylvania law does not restrict the right to vote of people who happen to 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.
Persons convicted of felonies (or any other crime) are eligible to vote! Only individuals currently incarcerated in penal institutions for felony convictions are denied the right to vote.
Procedures for an Emergency Application for Absentee Ballot
The Pennsylvania Legislature created procedures for voters to vote by absentee ballot when circumstances prevented the voter from applying by the regular deadline of one week prior to Election Day. If you become physically disabled or ill between 5:00 P.M. on the Friday before Election Day and 8:00 P.M. on Election Day or if you find out after 5:00 P.M. on the Friday before Election Day that you will be absent from your municipality of residence on Election Day because of your business, duties or occupation, you can receive an emergency absentee ballot if you complete and file with the court of common pleas in the county where you are registered to vote an emergency application or a letter or other signed document, which includes the same information as that provided on the emergency application.
Obtaining an Emergency Absentee Ballot If You Are Not Able to Appear in Court
If you are not able to appear in court to receive the ballot, you can designate, in writing, a representative to deliver the absentee ballot to you and return your completed absentee ballot to the county board of elections.
If you are not able to appear in court or obtain assistance from an authorized representative, the judge will direct a deputy sheriff of the county to deliver the absentee ballot to you if you are at a physical location within the county.
You will need to prepare three forms (which are attached to this message):
1. Emergency Absentee Application-After5on Friday (I apologize that the pdf version may not be readable by certain screen readers);
2. Designation of Authorized Representative – Emergency Absentee Ballot;
- Certification of Authorized Representative – Emergency Absentee ballot.
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
Voting is your right. Don’t leave the polls without voting!
Your vote matters — but only if you use it!
Paul W. O’Hanlon, Esq.
Disability Rights Network of Pa.
701 Law & Finance Building
429 Fourth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(412) 391-5225 ext. #2132