Minnesotans will be voting for U.S. House and Senate, governor, Minnesota House members and state office holders on Tuesday, November 6. In some communities, voters will be choosing local elected officials and weighing in on ballot questions or referendums.
Many disability advocacy groups have or will host election events this fall. Newspapers and online news sources have prepared or will release voter guides. There are plenty of ways for voters to learn about candidates and where they stand on issues. It’s unusual these days for a candidate or ballot issue not to have a website, Facebook page or other means of online outreach. Check advocacy groups’ online information to find out about debates or issues forums.
But learning about candidates is one thing. Getting to the polls is another. Many improvements have been made in recent years to help people with disabilities to register and to vote. Still, people with disabilities have historically voted at lower rates than the general public. Too many polling places still lack proper access. Improper assumptions are made about some individuals’ capability and right to vote.
Everyone who has the right to vote should do so, helping to choose elected officials and weigh in on ballot questions. Countless key policy and law changes, that impact every aspect of life for people with disabilities, will be in the hands of those who are elected in November.
Registration is easier
Minnesota law allows state residents to register to vote online. Online voter registration makes it easier for individuals to register. Studies have shown that online registration increases voter turnout.
Although Minnesotans can register at the polls on Election Day, preregistering online also saves time at the polling place. Registering online for this year’s general election ends Friday, October 16. Remember, moving to a new address requires a new registration.
Sign up to vote, check current registration and learn more at www.mnvotes.org. Anyone who cannot register online can call 651-215-1440 for a paper form.
To register at the polls, bring along items that prove identity and residency. Any one of these items will prove identity: a driver’s license, learner’s permit, state ID card, post-secondary or high school ID card, tribal ID, passport or U.S. military or veteran’s ID card. The item must have the voter’s current name and photo. It can be expired. It can have no address or an old address.
To provide residency, bring along a valid residential lease or rental agreement, current student fee statement, or a bill that is dated within 30 days of the election. It can be a phone bill (landline or cell), TV (cable or satellite), Internet service, solid waste or sewer service, banking or credit card bill, rent or mortgage payment documents, or an electric, gas or water bill. These can be shown to the registration judge on a smartphone.
Another way to register at the polls is to vote with a registered voter who lives in the same precinct. That person can act as a voucher.
Cast an absentee or early ballot
Many people enjoy voting on Election Day, going to the polling place, seeing neighbors and casting a ballot. Those who don’t wish to wait in long lines at a polling place can cast absentee or vote early at an election office or satellite location.
Absentee voting is easier now because Minnesota has adopted a “no excuse” absentee voting clause. In the past voters had to specific why they wished to vote absentee. Now, no reason has to be stated to vote prior to Election Day. That is a benefit to people who don’t wish to self-disclose a disability. Request an absentee ballot through the mail at: www.mnvotes.org
Absentee voting for the November 6 general election began September 21. Ballots can be mailed or voters can check with local election offices to see when and where ballots can be cast. Some larger cities will add additional polling places.
Voters can also cast ballots in person at the local elections office between now and Election Day. Hours can vary from community to community. MNVotes.org can help voters find the correct place to vote before or on Election Day.
Election Day questions and concerns
Voter assistance and the rights of voters under guardianship are often raised as issues. Learn about these issues before voting.
Voter assistance can take many forms. The head election judge at every polling place should help with access or assistance questions. Polling places are required by state and federal law to be physically accessible and to offer curbside or motor voting. With this form of voting, an election judge from each party goes out to the voter’s vehicle and helps a voter fill out a ballot. The completed ballot is taken inside and placed in the ballot box.
Voters can seek other accommodations. Voters who cannot sign a roster or registration book can ask for assistance, after orally confirming identity. It is OK to ask an election judge or person providing assistance to sign the book or registration if needed.
A helper or assistant can be brought to the polls, or be provided by two judges assigned by the head judge at the precinct. An assistant or assistants can help a voter with disabilities through the entire voting process.
An election judge may ask an assistant, “Are you assisting or influencing the voter?” Influencing voters is against the law. Assistants are not supposed to tell the voter whom to vote for or a mark a ballot against the voter’s wishes.
Assistants cannot be an employer, a union or a candidate for office. Some good choices for assistants are family members, friends, guardians or direct support staff.
Polling places have machines voters with disabilities can use to mark ballots. The machines provide privacy for voters who cannot use a pen. The machines can display a ballot in large print or with a high-contrast background. Headphones can be used to have the ballot read to the voter. Ballots can be filled out using Braille keypads, touchscreen or sip and puff devices. The machine prints the completed ballot and then it goes into the ballot box.
It’s OK to take a sample ballot into the polling place for reference. Please don’t leave the sample ballot there after voting.
If a ballot if marked improperly, a replacement ballot can be provided.
Persons under guardianship can vote until a guardianship court order states that the court has specifically taken away voting rights. Several years ago the federal courts found that individuals under guardianship are presumed competent to vote and are able to register and vote. Anyone under guardianship should review his or her court guardianship order and talk with the guardian prior to voting.
Election Day hotlines and voting information
As of Access Press deadline, there was no information on any “rides to the polls” programs in Minnesota. People should plan for rides through their paratransit services, or ask their local advocacy organizations about any programs.
Voters have the right to file complaints about how an election is being run, accessibility issues at a polling place or other concerns. The head election judge at a precinct can take the complaint, and is supposed to report the complaint and issues raised to election officials.
The Minnesota Disability Law Center/Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid runs a voter hotline on Election Day during the hours that the polls are open, 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Any voter with disabilities who experiences a problem voting or with a voting-related question, can call 1-800- 292-4150. Calls can also be made to this number if there are issues with guardianship.
A second hotline for general voting-related problems on Election Day is 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
An excellent resource for all election-related questions, forms and sample ballots, is www.sos.state.mn.us.