The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information









People with Disabilities and Voting

What if you wanted to vote but the polling place was locked? For many of the 33.7 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, this situation is all too real. Not because polling officials are deliberately blocking disabled people from entering, but because so many polling places are inaccessible. In fact, the Federal Election Commission reports that, in violation of state and federal laws, more than 20,000 polling places across the nation are inaccessible, depriving people with disabilities of their fundamental right to vote.

This despite state and federal laws - including the Americans With Disabilities Act - which require polling places to accommodate disabled voters.

Data is scarce on the extent of the accessibility problem, but where researchers have looked, the results have not been encouraging. In 1999, the attorney general for the State of New York ran a check of polling places around the state and found many problems. A study of three upstate counties found fewer than 10 percent of polling places fully compliant with state and federal laws.

Polling booths are set in church basements or in upstairs meeting halls where there is no ramp or elevator. Or there is no disabled parking, or doorways are too narrow. All this means problems not just for people who use wheelchairs, but for people using canes or walkers too. And in most states people who are blind don't have the right to a Braille ballot; they have to bring someone along to vote for them, and might well wonder if that person is really following their instructions. It appears that a person requires sight to have the right to a secret ballot.

Studies show that people with disabilities are interested in government and public affairs and want to participate in the democratic process. But because they are often locked out of the polling booth they stay home on election day. A study by researchers Kay Schriner and Douglas Kruse shows that people with disabilities are 20 percentage points less likely than non-disabled people to vote and 10 percent less likely to register to vote.

Poll workers can sometimes deter people from voting when they question the right to vote of someone with a cognitive disability. Sometimes they believe that someone with cerebral palsy is drunk. And just as convicted felons are legally disenfranchised, many states have outmoded constitutions or statutes disenfranchising people with cognitive disabilities, using terms like "idiot" and "unsound mind." Would it matter if more people with disabilities voted? Of course, it's the fundamental right of all Americans to vote. But if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as the non-disabled, 10 million more votes would have been cast in the last Presidential election - a major voting bloc.

Voting is power, and measuring the size of any group's vote can significantly impact that group's political muscle. But the disability vote is not often examined. As a group, or special interest constituency, people with disabilities are invisible, not included or even identified in exit polling or post election analyses.

Research suggests that disability agencies are not using the National Voter Registration Act.







Kay Schriner and Douglas Kruse have conducted a number of studies about voting access and persons with disabilities.

Kay Schriner, Ph.D., Department of Political Science
University of Arkansas
501-575-6417 (direct)
501-575-3356 (reception)

Douglas Kruse, School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers University

The Trace R&D Center was founded in 1971. The Center, directed by Gregg Vanderheiden, currently works on ways to make consumer electronic information technologies and telecommunications systems more accessible to people with disabilities.
Gregg Vanderheiden
Trace Research and Development Center
(608) 263-2309



The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
The Project on Disability Politics at the University of Arkansas looks at political participation of people with disabilities, voting rights laws affecting people with disabilities and disability in American campaigns and elections.

"Voters with disabilities face discrimination nationwide," A report in the November/December 2000 issue of Ragged Edge magazine

The Trace Research & Development Center's efforts to make electronic voting machines easier to use for the average citizen, our aging population and people with disabilities can be found at

The National Organization on Disability's "Getting Out The Disability Vote" campaign has background and commentary






Expert sources

Election reform legislation and access

Voting in America -- commentary

Accessible voting machines

Polling sites remain inaccessible


About The Center for An Accessible Society