During the early stages of the pandemic, many voters with special needs experienced new problems when attempting to cast their ballots in the spring primaries. Inaccessible polling places, concerns over contracting the virus and issues with receiving or completing mail-in ballots kept some individuals from exercising their right to vote.
Disability advocates at the national and local level have long pushed for more reliable protections for voters. But now, with a major federal election approaching and continued complications due to the pandemic, advocates are working hard to educate individuals with disabilities about their rights and options in 2020.
What are your voting rights as an individual with a disability?
In Georgia, individuals with physical or mental special needs have the right to vote. Individuals who are under legal guardianship maintain that right, provided that their guardianship order does not specifically remove the right to vote.
While the Georgia registration deadline for the Nov. 3 election has passed, an eligible voter must be 18 by Election Day, have no felony arrest record and be a U.S. citizen. Georgia law states that “mental incompetence” is a disqualifier to registration. However, because the law does not define mental incompetence, this provision does not bar anyone with a disability from registering and voting.
Georgians with special needs also have the right:
- To vote with assistance, receiving help from the person of their choosing (with limited exceptions)
- To use an assistive voting device
- To access a voting unit that allows for sitting or wheelchair use
- To vote without reading or writing tests
- To physically access their polling place or an alternative location in their precinct
Preparing to vote in person
If you choose to vote in person this year, voting early is likely the way to go. All polling places are required to be fully accessible. The workers there should understand how to assist you.
Poll workers looking to ensure their location is accessible can find a list from the Justice Department of temporary fixes for common access problems.
You’ll need a photo ID, like a driver’s license, voter ID card or U.S. passport.
Georgia early voting runs from Monday, Oct. 12 to Friday, Oct. 30. You can check the Secretary of State’s site for locations and hours. DeKalb County and Fulton County, for example, have multiple early voting locations with varying hours and weekend availability.
You can also use Georgia’s My Voter Page to determine your polling place if you choose to vote on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Preparing to vote with a mail-in ballot
This year, voting by mail-in ballot has taken off as individuals avoid the potential Covid exposure of in-person locations. As of early October, a quarter million ballots had already been returned in Georgia. Anyone can request a mail-in ballot, and you may do so online or by sending in an application.
After placing a request, you can verify that your application was accepted, but keep in mind that the closer Election Day gets, the harder it will be to receive your mail-in ballot and return it on time. You’ll likely want to have an alternative in-person voting plan.
If you’ve received your ballot, you can return it either by mail (be sure to affix correct postage) or by hand-delivering it to a dropbox in your registered county. The box must be in your registered county for your vote to count. If you choose to vote by mail, your ballot must be postmarked by Tuesday, Nov. 3 and received by Friday, making it important to get it in the mail early.
While there are likely to be some gains for the special needs community with the increased availability of absentee voting, mail-in ballots don’t work for everyone. Disability advocates across the country have sued their state boards of elections, arguing that mail-in paper ballots make voting privately and independently impossible for some voters, especially those with visual impairments.
The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for electronic absentee ballot options that allow voters to use screen readers, digital magnifiers or text-to-speech software to complete their ballots. The ballots are then printed and mailed or dropped off.
However you choose to vote this year, remember that a disability does not have to prevent you from being able to exercise your right to vote.
Speak With an Atlanta Special Needs Lawyer
If you’re the parent or loved one of an individual with special needs, you’ll want help protecting his or her future. Call Nadler Biernath today at 770-999-9799 to schedule your initial consultation to discuss how we can help your loved ones.