A voter using a wheelchair arrives at the polling place. Parking is signed and available. The front doors are easily accessible at ground level, with a paddle to hit. Hallway access is clear. But the room where the voting machines are located has steps to get inside.
A voter who has visual disabilities arrives at the polling place. The machine that helps with ballot marking is broken. The head judge makes the voter wait for a long time before assigning two other election judges to help. The voter misses a paratransit ride back home.
A voter with a speech disability arrives at the polling place. The voter has never been under guardianship, never been convicted of a felony and has voted in the precinct for several years. But an election judge openly questions whether the voter is qualified to cast a ballot given the speech disability.
A voter arrives at the polling place, with a friend to help mark a ballot. That friend doesn’t agree with the candidates the voter wishes to support and wants to mark the ballot against the voter’s wishes.
A residential facility worker and residents arrive at the polling place. The worker has brought the residents to vote, but the head election judge will not let the worker vouch for the residents.
These scenarios are all too familiar to people with disabilities. When a polling place challenge or an accessibly violation emerges, Election Day resources are available. But voters must be ready to call and take quick action.
By law, polling places are required to be accessible. In 2020, 76.3 percent of people with disabilities in Minnesota voted. That’s 344,164 people. That means another 106,902 people didn’t vote, according to the Rev UP Minnesota coalition. It’s not known why those voters stayed home. But worries about polling place access are real and may be a factor.
Making sure polling places are accessible is the work of local election officials. People with disabilities and their allies also play key roles.
Justin Page, attorney at the Minnesota Disability Law Center, outlined the resources available at a recent Rev UP MN forum. The center has a hotline to call on Election Day if voters face problems. It is 1-800-292-4150.
Some of Minnesota’s Election Day work is proactive. “On Election Day we recruit numerous volunteers across the state to go to polling places,” said Page. “We have a tool we came up with in conjunction with the Secretary of State’s Office that allows volunteers to check and make sure that polling places are accessible.”
These volunteers check for steps, too-narrow doorways and hallways, working ballot marking machines, proper signage and overall polling place access.
Complaints can be addressed in different ways on Election Day. Remember to be polite but direct in bringing up problems.
The first person to talk to at a polling place if there is an access issue of any kind is the head election judge. That person can get assistance for a voter, make sure a helper is helping and not unfairly influencing the voter, and look at access issues.
On the other hand, not every head election judge is an expert on the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act. Some head judges may be inexperienced.
If a situation cannot be resolved by the head judge, call the local election office. It’s a good idea to look up that phone number before going to vote, write it down and take it along in case there are problems.
Keep in mind that physical access issues to polling palaces can be complicated by no fault of the judges. Occasionally judges show up for setup and find that the building staff has made changes without consulting election officials. Rooms have been moved without notice and even entrances changed. Still, such situations must be addressed and corrected.
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office works closely and promptly with county auditors, municipal clerks, county attorneys and local law enforcement officials around the state when possible violations of elections law are revealed. Under Minnesota law county attorneys have the legal authority and jurisdiction to investigate possible election law violations. Complaints can be filed by using the Minnesota County Attorneys’ Association website, at https://mcaa-mn.org/
With federal elections, complaints can be filed under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. HAVA is a federal law that reformed aspects of the United States election system regarding federal elections only. The law was prompted by voting issues that arose during the 2000 presidential election. For more information, check https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx
Each of these websites outline the detailed processes that must be followed to make complaints.
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.