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Disability Shouldn't Block Voter Access to Polls

State and federal law requires polling places to accommodate people with disabilities. (zeevveez/Flickr)
State and federal law requires polling places to accommodate people with disabilities. (zeevveez/Flickr)
July 14, 2016

LANSING, Mich. – Nearly 19 percent of America's population lives with a disability, and this week the focus is on making sure they get a chance to vote.

It's National Disability Voter Registration Week, and RoAnne Chaney, executive director of the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, stresses polling places should be set up so all Michiganders can access the ballot box.

She says it’s better to do it now than to wait until November. She points out there is a wide range of challenges that individuals with a disability can face when exercising their right to vote.

"Getting into the building is the first one,” she explains. “You know, you've got to have no steps. And then there's the question of being able to get in booths, to be able to reach and making sure that they can see the ballots, that they can manipulate all the equipment and have privacy in voting. "

State and federal laws call for polling places to remove any barriers that may prevent a person with a disability from voting.

Chaney says community members can help by calling their local election board or the Secretary of State's office if they notice polling places that aren't set up to accommodate people with disabilities.

Chaney points out some election policies can also block access or create long lines that are difficult for some people to stand in.

"Our legislature here did pass a law eliminating the ability to vote a straight ticket,” she says. “That may increase the time it takes to vote. We are a state that requires ID, that's sometimes an issue for people who don't drive and don't realize that you can get a state ID."

Chaney notes that individuals with a disability can vote by absentee ballot in Michigan.

The last day to register for the November election is Oct. 11. And absentee ballot applications must be submitted by 2 p.m. on the Saturday prior to the election.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI