A trip to the polls to cast a ballot is an autumn rite of passage for many of us. Absentee and early voting provide convenience but going to the polls is a chance to take part in Election Day and see friends and neighbors.
Minnesota voters with disabilities need to be mindful of regulations that can affect how they vote and what types of assistance are available.
Rev Up MN in September hosted a forum on voting, with Justin Page from the Minnesota Disability Law Center covering a wide range of elections-related topics. The center provides information on voting for disabled Minnesotans and can step in to help if someone has troubled voting . It also relies on a cadre of volunteers to check polling places statewide during elections, to make sure that locations are accessible.
“Voting is a right, not a privilege,” said Page. He wants voters to be aware of what is and isn’t legal in terms of assistance. Voters should not hesitate to ask for help when voting.
One tip is for voters to prepare to go to the polling place. Voters typically won’t find themselves in the long waiting lines that are characteristic of presidential years so the reminders to bring water and any needed medications aren’t germane this fall.
But voters who need to register at their polling placed do need to have specific documentation in hand if they do not have a neighbor or family member in the same precinct to vouch for them.
Election judges must verify identity and residency – who the voter is and where the voter lives. The state defines which documents are needed to prove both. Go to https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/register-to-vote/register-on-election-day/
Once a voter is registered or signed in, election judges provide a ballot. Page emphasized that voting is private and that others should not ask a voter for whom they voted. But not every voter can vote by themselves.
People with disabilities may need help filling out a ballot. Help is available with set parameters.
Voters can bring a friend, family member or direct support staff with them to the polling place to help with a ballot. When bringing a helper, be ready to hear election judges ask the helper, “Are you assisting or influencing?” Helpers are to fill out a ballot with the candidates the voter supports, and to not tell the voter for whom to vote.
A voter can also ask the head election judge for help. The judge will assign two election judges to assign, so that there is oversight and improper influence is avoided. The judges will be from different parties.
Every polling place should have a wheelchair-accessible table to vote in privacy.
Machines are available for disabled voters to mark their ballots. Every polling place in Minnesota is supposed to have a ballot marking machine for use by people with disabilities. Minnesota’s polling places will have one of four different kinds of machines, Page said. The machines are designed so voters with various types of disabilities can use them.
Some polling places may still have the longtime Automark machines. Some of those machines are 20 or more years old. “It’s kind of clunky,” Page said of the Automark. While the old machines get the job done, one complaint is that Automarks are breaking down more and more.
Other ballot marking machines are the Omni, Imagecast and Verify Touchwriter. Local election offices can tell voters in advance what is available. Information is also available on the Minnesota Secretary of state website. While the machines are all different and a change may take some getting used, Page said any of the four will aid voters.
Machines can read a ballot to vote, help with marking and even allow screens to be turned off for more privacy. Machines can also let a voter know if a ballot is marked incorrectly.
Not able to go into a polling place but still need to vote on Election day? Page suggested the option of curbside voting, Read about polling place accessibility at when a voter drives or is driven to the polling places. Judges then bring the ballot outside and have it marked. To give a polling place notice, Page suggesting calling the county election office and having staff notify the precinct workers.
“The last thing we want to have happen is for individuals to use curbside voting and just have to wait for an excessive amount of time,” said Page.
Read about polling place accessibility at https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/election-day-voting/polling-place-accessibility/
Read about ways to get assistance while voting and ballot marking machines at https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/election-day-voting/get-help-voting/
Election coverage is funded by the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits.