Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy, and even more meaningful for our veterans who served to protect and defend that right.
Today we call attention to National Voter Registration Day, to remind all eligible voters to make sure they are registered and have a workable voting plan in place. Many American citizens never have a chance to vote, for several reasons: they do not know how to register; they move and forget to update their information; they miss registration deadlines; or, sadly, they are faced with accessibility challenges that prevent them from casting a ballot.
This year PVA is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While we applaud the ADA’s successes, we also want to remove barriers that still exist in public life. Unfortunately for our paralyzed veterans, voting is an area that still needs attention. In the last presidential election, less than half of polling places were ADA compliant.
Accessibility issues can include:
- Transportation – People with disabilities often need specialized transportation, public or private, that might not be available – or they may not be comfortable leaving their home.
- Parking – Accessible parking may not be available, and even if it is, the entrance to the polling place may be farther away than the front door of the facility.
- Sidewalks – Sidewalks may not be available or accessible for someone using a mobility device such as a wheelchair or cane.
- Long Lines – Paralyzed individuals and others with disabilities may not have the stamina to endure long lines at the polling place in a variety of weather conditions.
- Health Concerns – Those with severe and underlying health conditions may be concerned about crowds and sanitation procedures, especially this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to ensure that people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote. The ADA’s provisions apply to all aspects of voting, including voter registration, site selection, and the casting of ballots, whether on Election Day or during early voting. If your polling place is inaccessible, you must be provided with another way to vote.
Lee Page, Senior Associate Advocacy Director, has been with PVA for over 30 years, and is our resident expert on the ADA and voting rights. His second day on the job found him up on Capitol Hill, lobbying for the ADA’s passage, and he was there on the White House lawn when the legislation was signed in 1990. In the years since, he did extensive work to guarantee the passage of the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.
The right to vote is a core issue for PVA. It is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. All who join the military take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from enemies at home and abroad, thus preserving the right to vote. PVA members are veterans with severe spinal cord injury, disorder, or disease and have sacrificed so much in spreading the democratic process of United States. It is our duty to make sure when they come home they are able to participate in that process.
Lee, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident in 1983, is familiar with life before the ADA. He worked at a bank just out of college that was not wheelchair-friendly. “I had to go in through the loading dock door and use the women’s restroom because it was the only one accessible. I didn’t think anything of it, because back then, we didn’t,” he shares.
While Lee always tries to vote in person, he understands not everyone is able to do so. “Some urban areas just don’t have accessible polling places because of architectural barriers. And maybe in a rural area you have to drive longer distances,” he says. He urges everyone to register and put a voting plan in place now for the fall election. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be longer wait times, fewer polling locations, and even fewer poll workers.
PVA wants everyone to know their rights so they can vote safely and independently. Visit PVA.org/vote for voting accessibility resources, including early voting laws and deadlines by state, and a guide to making your personal voting plan.