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ND Disability Advocates Urge Focus on Voter Accessibility

Advocates for people with disabilities are urging North Dakota election officials to ensure polling places are accessible for the upcoming election. (iStockphoto)
Advocates for people with disabilities are urging North Dakota election officials to ensure polling places are accessible for the upcoming election. (iStockphoto)
July 15, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - It's National Disability Voter Registration Week. More than 160,000 North Dakotans are living with a disability, and this week the focus is on making sure they have equal access to the voting polls this November. While North Dakota is the only state that doesn't require voter registration, advocates for people with disabilities say many folks still face obstacles.

Judy DeWitz, disabilities advocate with the North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project said they're using educational videos to help election officials set up the polling places properly.

"Make sure that they have either automatic doors to get into the building, if folks need that; if they needed elevators," she said. "If they have a slope, is it the right type of slope? Are there handrails? How to respect the folks with disabilities."

DeWitz noted that individuals with disabilities also can vote by absentee ballot in North Dakota. To do that, an application must be mailed to a county auditor's office before the election.

But for the people who are homebound and can't get to a polling place, the state has recently made some helpful changes. For example, DeWitz said they can now have a family member, or an 'attester,' vouch for their eligibility to vote on an absentee ballot.

"So, people with disabilities that can't get out and get their ID do have a way to also vote," she added. "They have just as much right as anybody else, unless their guardianship papers say they can't, they can vote. And so, we try to make sure they have that opportunity."

DeWitz said the Advocacy Project, along with the Dakota Center for Independent Living, are currently working through a survey of the state's nearly 300 polling sites to determine accessibility improvements that could be made in the future.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND