The Accessible Voting Act would support state and local efforts to improve voter accessibility

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging introduced the Accessible Voting Act, which would support state and local efforts to improve voter accessibility and remove barriers to voting. In the 2016 general election, 16 million votes, representing 11.5 percent of the total votes, were cast by people with disabilities. However, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that only 17 percent of the polling places it examined during the 2016 election were fully accessible. The voter turnout rate for Native Americans remains substantially lower compared to other groups and their lack of access to polling locations and absentee ballot drop-off boxes greatly effects Native Americans’ ability to cast their votes.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, but exercising that right is not possible for too many Americans. Inaccessible polling places and voting booths, limited access to transportation, insufficient options for casting ballots, and inaccessible voter information websites are all obstacles to voting for millions of Americans,” Klobuchar said. “The Accessible Voting Act would help ensure that we remove barriers to voting for citizens with disabilities, the elderly, Native Americans, and those with limited English proficiency. Our democracy works best when all citizens can make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

“The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy, but that right is under threat due to barriers that prevent or make it hard for older Americans and people with disabilities to cast their ballots,” Casey said. “The Accessible Voting Act would ensure the full process of voting—from registering to vote, to casting a ballot in person or by mail—is open and accessible for everyone. Congress should be doing everything in its power to strengthen voting access for seniors and people with disabilities.”

"We commend Senator Casey and Senator Klobuchar for introducing this legislation, which will protect the right of all blind Americans to vote privately and independently," said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "As a blind person and the father of two blind daughters, I know we have fought hard for the blind to have equal access to voting and our continued work is critically important to protecting this right for blind people for generations to come.”

“America is at its best when all eligible voters have their voices heard, which is why we urge bipartisan support for The Accessible Voting Act of 2020. The voters covered by this bill—older individuals, individuals with disabilities, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and voters with limited English proficiency—continue to face unique barriers when attempting to exercise their right to vote. This legislation is a vital step forward to break down those hurdles, protect the right to vote for millions of Americans, and strengthen our democracy,” said Sonia Gill, senior legislative counsel of ACLU.

The Accessible Voting Act would:

  • Establish the Office of Accessibility within the Election Assistance Commission to support and oversee state efforts to expand voter accessibility and serve as a resource for advocates and voters.
  • Establish a new state grant program for the Office of Accessibility to administer for the improvement of accessibility when registering to vote, voting by absentee ballot, and casting a ballot in person.
  • Provide up-to-date voting information and resources, through easily accessible websites, to ensure voters know how to register to vote, cast an absentee ballot and are able to find help if their right to vote is challenged.
  • Expand the number of options to cast a ballot in federal elections to ensure older voters and voters with disabilities can utilize the voting option most accessible for them.
  • Create a national resource center on accessible voting to conduct cultural competency trainings for election officials and poll workers to create truly accessible voting systems.
  • Re-authorize grants to states, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to improve voting accessibility for older Americans and people with disabilities.

In 2017, Senators Casey and Klobuchar released a report, “Barriers to Voting for Older Americas: How States are Making It Harder for Seniors to Vote,” which details how suppressive state laws and inaccessible voting locations disenfranchise older Americans. The report found that strict voter identification (ID) laws, closure of voting locations, inaccessible polling places and limits on early voting and absentee ballots are preventing seniors and people with disabilities from voting.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is also an original cosponsor of the Accessible Voting Act.

The bill is supported by Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Civil Liberties Union, The Arc, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Campaign Legal Center, Center for Advocacy for the Rights & Interests of the Elderly, Center for American Progress, Center for Civic Design, Diverse Elders Coalition, End Citizens United Action Fund, Five Cedars Groups, Inc, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, League of Women Voters, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Council on Independent Living, National Disability Rights Network, National Federation for the Blind, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Progressive Turnout Project.