Election legislation that passed during the regular session will be influential in providing access to voting for people with disabilities. Voting rights provisions were added to the State Government Finance Omnibus bill. The following are election provisions that will have an impact on the disability community:
Employees of residential facilities can vouch for the individuals who live there even if the employee does not reside in the same precinct. Among the facilities that fit in this category are group homes, nursing homes, ICF/MRs, homeless shelters, and other temporary housing. The manager of the facility will need to provide the county auditor with the names of its employees at least 20 days before Election Day. A registered voter vouching in their own precinct cannot vouch for more than 15 people. This rule does not apply to employees of residential facilities.
New language for individuals under guardianship provides more clarity and states that a person under guardianship is eligible to vote unless a court order revokes the right to vote. The former statute was ambiguous, causing those under guardianship to be uncertain about their right to vote.
Another guardianship issue addressed during the session was how individuals would even know if they are eligible to vote. Guardians are required to report annually to the counties on the status of their ward. This report did not include information about the right to vote. The new law will require this reporting process to include information on the ward’s right to vote. With this new change, the counties and the Secretary of State will be notified of who is eligible to vote under guardianship. Additionally, the ward will know what their own voting rights are and can retain a paper copy of this information for their own records.
3. Accessible voting equipment:
The legislature authorized the state to use funding appropriated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to purchase accessible voting equipment. HAVA requires all polling places to have one accessible voting machine by January 2006. Minnesota will meet this requirement for the state elections in 2006 and the local elections in 2008. To this end, the Secretary of State has received $35,000,000 to allocate throughout the state to purchase suitable equipment that will provide voters with disabilities independence and privacy at the polls. An additional article in the next issue of Access Press specifically related to the HAVA bill will provide further information.
4. Other provisions:
a. Challenges must be made in writing with the challenger’s name, address, and phone number
b. Challenges must be based on personal knowledge of the challenger
c. Challengers must be a MN resident
• Election judges
a. All must have ID badges indicating their position
b. Cannot be challengers
a. Language clarified that ex-felons are eligible to vote once their sentence has been completed
• Survivors of domestic abuse/others who fear retribution
a. Name will be withheld from public information list for safety reasons by request of a signed statement by voter to the Secretary of State and county auditor
• Same-day registration
a. Tribal IDs allowed when registering at polls.
The passage of this legislation will help make it easier for people with disabilities to vote by clarifying discrepancies and allowing individuals to vote independently and privately for the first time. Much of the work done to get the election legislation passed during the regular session was by the Voting Rights Coalition, a collaboration of several groups and non-profits of Minnesota representing various sectors of the community. These breakthrough developments are a part of a continuing move to end disenfranchisement and intimidation of voters with disabilities and other groups. In the future, voting can be a rewarding experience and not a challenging process.
For the full text of the State Finance Omnibus Bill, you can access the Minnesota State Legislature website at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/data/house/ccr/ls84/ccrhf1481.html.