Contributed by: Dianne Naus, Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC)
Greetings from the Minnesota Disability Law Center!
For those not familiar, MDLC provides legal advocacy and representation to individuals with disabilities in matters of abuse and neglect, community integration, self-determination, employment, education, assistive technology, accessibility, discrimination, and VOTING. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), provides funding for agencies like ours to ensure marginalized groups have access to their polling places. To that end, MDLC partners with the Secretary of State's office to survey polling places for accessibility, staffs a Voter Hotline (1-800-292-4150) open 7am - 8pm on election days, and offers legal advocacy to voters with disabilities. We also offer trainings to individuals, family members, and staff on the voting rights of people with disabilities.
By law, HAVA requires states to ensure the following voting rights for people with disabilities:
- Accessible polling places, ballots, and voting equipment
- Independence, privacy, and assistance while voting
By Minnesota law, all voters can:
- Curbside vote
- Vote no-excuse absentee
But that's not all! There are many elements that make a polling place accessible, from having a signature guide and magnifying glass to offering the ballot marking machine (Automark) to every voter regardless of disability status. Tables must be high enough for a wheelchair to fit under, and there must be clear signage directing voters to the area of the building where voting takes place. Voters with disabilities have the right to bring their service animal and even a sample ballot! Printing a sample ballot and filling it out at home is a great way to support the independence of voters with disabilities!
Elections and COVID-19
The COVID-19 peacetime emergency in Minnesota may still be in effect during upcoming elections. Additionally, the restrictions and recommendations that are in place due to COVID-19 will impact the voting process for many Minnesotans later this year.
There is a change to Minnesota state election law that aims to make elections safer. The main part of the bill focuses on absentee voting. The bill provides money to promote the usage of absentee ballots so people can vote from home. Additional funds will allow for polling place sanitization and the installation of plexiglass protection. The bill also outlines some polling places can be closed, especially ones that are close to vulnerable populations.
Because of fears over COVID-19, there is a worry that it might be hard to staff polling places. Social distancing requirements may still be in effect, causing long lines. The lines could extend outdoors, and if the weather is bad, this might create hardships for some Minnesotans with disabilities.
What Voting Options Do I Have?
Vote Early by Mail
In Minnesota, you can vote early by mail with an absentee ballot starting 46 days before the General Election (September 18).
Individuals can apply for a ballot any time during the year, except on Election Day. You can ask that it be mailed to you by:
If you decide to vote by absentee, make sure you leave enough time to receive your ballot and to return it on or before Election Day. If you are not already registered to vote, you can register online or use paper forms from the Secretary of State's website.
Vote Early in Person
In Minnesota, you can vote early in person with an absentee ballot at your local election office. Go to your county election office during normal business hours starting on September 18.
If you are not registered to vote, you can fill out the registration form in person. You do need to show proof of residence to register in person. Some local jurisdictions may have extra absentee voting days or hours beyond the days and times set by law.
Vote in Person on Election Day
If you want to go to the polls on Election Day, you have that option. Before you go, make sure that your polling place is still open. You can check that on the Secretary of State's site or contact your county election office. Be ready for the possibility of longer-than-normal lines, remember to social distance and consider wearing a mask. There should be other safety measures in place like plexiglass protection for workers and hand sanitizer dispensers.
Despite COVID-19-related voting changes, people with disabilities still have the voting rights mandated by HAVA and Minnesota law noted above. Residential providers can assist their residents in the registration process, secure a mail-in ballot, and/or get to the polls, and MDLC is here to support you. Thank you for all you have done and will do to support those you serve in the voting process!