People with disabilities have the same voting right as any other citizens. But individuals with disabilities who are under guardianship or who live in residential facilities are often uncertain about their voting rights. During the 2008 presidential election, family members in Iowa and Nebraska tried to challenge the voting rights of their adult children. Know the law before casting a ballot.
In Minnesota, only a court may decide whether an individual is not competent to vote. Individuals under guardianship have the right to vote unless a court has specifically revoked an individual’s right to vote.
If a person under guardianship is unsure of his or her legal right to vote, the first step is to check an individual guardianship order. If the order says nothing about voting, then he or she has the right to vote. If the court order states that an individual’s right to vote has been revoked, and there is desire to restore that right, the individual should contact the court that ordered the guardianship and ask the court administrator to schedule a hearing to modify the court order. The next step is to petition the court to have the right to vote reinstated. Any Minnesotan seeking to restore his or her voting rights is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer’s assistance.
Individuals who live in a residential facility have the right to vote. A residential facility is a nursing home, an assisted living facility, a residential treatment center, a group home or a battered women’s shelter.
Individuals who cannot prove their residence at a residential facility are able to vote on Election Day by having an employee of the facility come to the polling place and “vouch” for them. Vouching entails having the employee sign a legal oath stating they personally know that the resident resides in the precinct. A person who goes to the polling place with a voucher can register and vote on Election Day
The procedures governing vouching are complex. The main requirements are for residential facilities to provide a certified list of names of current employees and the address of the facility to the appropriate county auditor at least 20 days before each election. Employees who vouch must be residents of Minnesota and eligible to vote. However, they do not have to live in the precinct in which they are vouching and there is no limit on the number of residents for whom an employee can vouch.
Voting by agent
Persons residing in a residential facility who aren’t able to get to the polls on Election Day can vote in Minnesota by using a designated agent. Minnesota law lets you designate a person (your “agent”) to pick up an absentee ballot, bring it to the voter and return it to the county auditor or city clerk where the voter lives. This is allowed only during the last seven days prior to the election and until 2 p.m. on Election Day. The agent must return the completed absentee ballot to the local election official’s office by 3 p.m. on Election Day for it to be counted.
In order to have an agent deliver a ballot, the voter must complete a Request for Agent Delivery of Absentee Ballot Form and an Absentee Ballot Application. These forms can be obtained from your local election official’s office.
Voters must have a preexisting relationship with the agent. Each agent is only allowed to deliver and return ballots for a maximum of three voters.
Voting in person with assistance
Voters with disabilities who want to vote on Election Day can ask for assistance at the polling place. Remember that while assistance is offered, a voter may decline it. No one may handle a ballot without the voter’s permission.
A voter can bring a helper to the polls. However, helpers can only assist a voter in casting a ballot. A head election judge may ask the voter and helper, “Are you being assisted or are you being influenced?” This is done to ensure that the voter is not being told whom to vote for. Anyone coming to the polling place needs to talk to the head precinct judge for various types of assistance. Minnesota offers car side or motor voting, for voters who cannot get out of their vehicles. After arriving at a polling place, send someone inside to ask for help. The head judge will send out two judges of different political parties to help fill out the ballot. Judges of different parties help so that one party does not have undue influence.
Voters who vote at the polls can ask the head judge for assistance in filling out a ballot. Again, two judges from different parties will be assigned to assist.
Minnesota also offers Auto-Mark voting machines, which can be used to mark a ballot. The machines are designed for voters with visual and hearing impairments. These devices mark a ballot but don’t count it. All ballots still have to be inserted in a counting device. Many cities and counties in Minnesota have one election judge per precinct who is specifically trained to help with the AutoMark.
Anyone with additional questions voting rights, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website at www.sos. state.mn.us. Now go out and VOTE!
Justin Page works for the, Minnesota Disability Law Center. Access Press staff con-tributed to this article.