(Editor’s note: The September issue covered how to vote early, by absentee ballot. This article covers in-person voting.)
Absentee voting and the ability to mail in a ballot offer convenience for many people with disabilities and extra safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others want to cast ballots in person.
In-person voting can be done on the day of the election or in many places, through early voting. Early voting in Minnesota began September 18. Remember that early voting locations may not be the same place a voter visits on election day.
Remember that in presidential election years, lines to vote can be long. It is a good idea to bring water to drink and any needed medications. Dress for the weather if lines could extend outdoors. Remember a mask and hand sanitizer.
As Access Press went to press, a Minnesota Supreme Court decision was pending. The court is expected to rule soon on a case that hinges upon the assistance voters can have when casting ballots. A ruling could have major impacts on how the November 3 election is conducted.
[See update in Regional News]
In a recent virtual hearing, the state’s high court justices questioned Democratic and Republican attorneys on election laws. Current law limits a person from assisting more than three voters in a given election. That affects people with disabilities as well as people who have language barriers to voting.
A separate state law limits persons who collect and deliver absentee ballots to only handling a maximum of three. Both laws come into play, including when staff members at a group home travel to the polls with residents or when ballots are delivered to be counted.
Democrats initially sued to stop enforcement of the law. The contention is that the laws have unfairly prevented some people from casting their ballots.
A Ramsey County District Court ruling put both laws on hold, sparking an appeal by the national and Minnesota Republican parties. Know access rules
Polling places must be physically accessible. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State, at least one set of doors must have a minimum width of 32 inches if the doors must be used to enter or leave the polling place.
Any curb adjacent to the main entrance to a polling place must have curb cuts or temporary ramps. Where the main entrance is not the accessible entrance, any curb adjacent to the accessible entrance must also have curb cuts or temporary ramps.
Where the main entrance is not the accessible entrance, a sign shall be posted at the main entrance giving directions to the accessible entrance.
At least one set of stairs must have a temporary handrail and ramp if stairs must be used to enter or leave the polling place.
No barrier in the polling place may impede the path of persons with disabilities to the voting booth.
At least one parking space for persons with disabilities, which may be temporarily so designated by the municipality for the day of the election, must be available near the accessible entrance.
The doorway, handrails, ramps and accessible parking must conform to the standards specified in the state building code for accessibility by persons with disabilities.
Local officials can only choose polling places that meet the standards unless no available place within a precinct is accessible or can be made accessible.
Report a problem
Contact local election officials immediately if a polling place is not accessible. Who those officials are varies from community to community. In some communities county government oversees elections. In others, cities or township have jurisdiction.
Get help when voting
It’s OK to bring a helper to the polls. Friends, neighbors or family members are among the accepted helpers. An employer or a representative from the voter’s union cannot serve as helpers.
A helper or assistant can help mark a ballot and go into the voting booth with the voter. It’s OK for the voter to show a ballot privately to an election judge, to check that it is correctly marked.
Be aware that election judges may ask if a helper is assisting the voter or trying to influence them. Helpers cannot unduly influence a voter to mark a ballot one way or another.
No helper? Ask election judges if they can provide help. The precinct head judge will assign two judges as helpers, from different political parties.
Voting places may also offer machines to help voters with disabilities, such as machines that read the ballots through headphones or machines that show a ballot in large print. Braille keypads, touchscreens or puff and sip devices are options.
Another form of assistance is to have election judges bring a ballot to a motor vehicle outside of the polling place. This is called curbside voting.
Voters can ask the head judge at a precinct or early voting place for assistance. Two judges, each from different parties, are assigned to help the voter fill out and cast a ballot.
Learn more about elections at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Elections & Voting website.