Be ready to cast votes this November

Be ready to cast votes this November

Once the August 11 primary election is in the books, all eyes turn to the November 3 general election. Voters will be electing a president, members of Congress, state legislators and in some cases, local city, county and school officials. 

Minnesotans with disabilities already face obstacles when trying to vote, with polling places that aren’t easily accessible and lack of accommodations when voting. The COVID-19 pandemic raises additional issues of personal safety. That is why absentee voting via mail is important. 

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office has launched REV Up Minnesota, an effort to encourage more state residents with disabilities to vote. The effort is meant to encourage people to Register, Educate, Vote and Use your Power. Learn more at the REV Up Minnesota Facebook site

About 70 people attended a virtual town hall in July to hear from Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and his staff. The Arc Minnesota and Autism Society of Minnesota facilitated the event. 

Minnesota historically has a strong record of voter participation and often tops the nation in voter turnout, said Simon. Minnesota is one of just 16 states with same-day voter registration. “But we have room to grow and room to improve.” 

State and federal laws require that polling places be accessible to people with disabilities. That means everyone should be able to enter and exit without barriers, and vote. 

“The pandemic is having a major impact on elections,” Simon said. While no one can predict the extent of the pandemic and any needed safety measures come November, election officials are assuming the pandemic will need to be addressed with social distance and other safety measures. 

Two requests are prompted by the pandemic. One is for people to consider requesting absentee ballots. “Please consider voting from home,” Simon said. “Everyone who votes from home helps make the polling places safer for other voters and for poll workers.” 

The second ask is for Minnesotans to consider becoming election judges, if they feel that their health won’t be compromised by doing so. Many election judges are elders, so a number of judges around the state will be sitting the 2020 elections out. 

Judges are paid and get training before the election. 

One question raised at the town hall is whether people with disabilities can be barred from voting. The answer is no, for the most part. 

Minnesotans who are age 18 and older, have U.S. citizenship and have lived in the state for at least 20 days prior to Election Day can vote. 

People with disabilities sometimes have their right to vote challenged. Minnesotans can vote if they are under conservatorship or guardianship, gave power of attorney to another person, have a brain injury, have a cognitive disability or have memory loss. No one can take away voting rights under those circumstances. That includes a spouse, children, attorneys, caregivers, doctors or nurses. 

Who cannot vote? Someone serving a felony sentence cannot vote until the sentence and probation are completed. Nor can some vote if a court has specifically restricted an individual’s voting rights. That has to be done through a court order, such an order that someone has been found to be legally incompetent. 

The Minnesota Secretary of State’s website and Facebook pages offer lots of good information for votes. Check on voter registration status, learn what is needed to register to vote on Election Day, request an absentee ballot and read accessibility rules. Learn how to file a complaint against a polling place or elections officials. 

Voters can bring a helper to the polls as long as that person is not the voter’s employer or from the voter’s union. Polling places can also provide two helpers per voter, from different political parties. Ask the head judge for assistance. 

If a ballot is improperly marked or spoiled, ask for a new ballot. If accommodations are needed such as voting machines for people who have visually or hearing disabilities, those are provided, too. 

Simon urged the group to learn more about their rights on Election Day and to report problems they see. Learn more at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s voting website