Research indicates that people with disabilities are less likely to vote than people without disabilities.
In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau asked nonvoters across the country why they had not submitted a ballot. Almost 14 percent of nonvoting New Mexicans responded that an illness or disability had prevented them from voting.
The most common problems for voters with disabilities were difficulty reading or seeing the ballot, and understanding how to use the polling place voting equipment, according to the 2013 Research Alliance for Accessible Voting Survey.
In the 2012 presidential election, there were 15.6 million people with disabilities who reported voting. The turnout rate of people with disabilities was 5.7 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities.
There would be 3 million more voters with disabilities if they voted at the same rate as people without disabilities.
The Alliance results found that one-third of voters with disabilities reported that they required some assistance in casting their vote.
Under New Mexico law, registered voters who are blind, physically disabled or unable to read or write may request help voting from a poll worker or volunteer.
Yet, according to a 2014 publication on the voting rights of people with disabilities by the Department of Justice, prejudicial assumptions about the capabilities of individuals with intellectual or mental health disabilities prevents some from voting.
Other problems identified were printed ballots that were not accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Also, people who use wheelchairs or walkers may have been prevented from voting because of barriers getting to or entering many polling places across the country.
Among voters in the 2012 election, those with disabilities were more likely to vote by mail and 28 percent did so, compared to 17 percent of voters without disabilities.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires jurisdictions responsible for conducting federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for persons with disabilities at each polling place in federal elections. The accessible voting system must provide the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence that other voters receive.
Any person who believes a violation has occurred may file a written complaint, on the Secretary of State’s complaint form, that states the name of the alleged violator and a specific description of the alleged violation.
Violations of accessibility at polling places for individuals with disabilities might include inaccessible parking, lack of access to the voting booth or no accessibility alternatives for the blind and voters with low vision in completing ballots.
In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act require states to ensure that all aspects of the voter registration process are accessible to persons with disabilities.
The ADA also prohibits a state from categorically disqualifying all individuals who have intellectual or mental health disabilities from registering to vote or from voting because of their disability.
According to a 2012 Social Science Quarterly article, there are few differences between political preferences and party affiliations from those with or without disabilities. Yet according to the article, people with disabilities tend to favor a greater government role in employment and health care.
In New Mexico, new voter registration ends Oct. 11. To vote by mail, an absentee ballot must be requested by Nov. 4 through a county clerk’s office.
Ballots must be signed and returned to the county clerk or voter’s precinct before 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center, 800-949-4232. He can be reached at email@example.com.