Voting and Polling Places
The ADA requires state and local governments and their election officials to ensure that people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote in all elections. This includes federal, state, and local elections. And it includes all parts of voting, like voter registration, selecting a location for polling places, and voting, whether on election day or during an early or absentee voting process.
Read this to get a basic understanding of this topic.
- For more detailed information on a topic, view Guidance & Resource materials
- For information about the legal requirements, visit Laws, Regulations & Standards
If you are an election official, you can use the information below to help make voting accessible and resolve some common accessibility barriers. If you are a person with a disability, the information should help you understand how the ADA protects your right to vote.
Registering to Vote
Registering to vote is the first step in the voting process. It needs to be accessible to people with disabilities. For example, a state/local government cannot categorically disqualify people with disabilities, including those with intellectual or mental health disabilities, from voting just because of their disability.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) has more requirements for the voter registration process.
Learn more about the NVRA
Under the NVRA, states must ensure offices that provide public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities also offer voter registration.
Polling Place or Vote Center Accessibility
People vote in many different places, such as libraries, schools, fire stations, churches, and even in shops or other private businesses. When such places are used for voting, they are sometimes called polling places or vote centers. These places need to be accessible to people with disabilities.
More about what it means for a polling place or vote center to be accessible to people with disabilities
You can consult the ADA Checklist for Polling Places as a quick reference to check whether your polling place is accessible or if temporary fixes could make it accessible when it is used as a polling place.
The ADA’s regulations and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design set out fully what makes a facility accessible. Use them to determine the accessibility of any facility being considered for use as a polling place. Any alterations made to a polling place must comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
Planning Ahead—Selecting Accessible Polling Places
If you are an election official planning ahead for election day, you can check out places you might use as a polling place or vote center—like libraries or fire stations. When doing so, you can assess whether the location already has basic accessibility features needed by most voters with disabilities or can be made accessible on election day using temporary solutions to remove barriers. You can use the table below and the ADA Checklist for Polling Places to help you do so. If temporary solutions would not work, and permanent changes cannot be made to fix barriers, then the election official must identify an alternative, accessible polling place or vote center.
|Barrier Potential||Temporary Solution|
|Parking is provided at a polling place but there are no accessible parking spaces.||Create temporary accessible parking by using traffic cones and portable signs to mark accessible spaces and access aisles.|
|Sidewalks lack a curb ramp meaning that a person using a wheelchair cannot get to the polling place to vote.||Install a ramp at least 36 inches wide, with a slope no more than 1:12, to provide temporary access over curbs or onto sidewalks.|
|A hallway contains drinking fountains, coat racks, fire extinguishers, or other protruding objects that may pose hazards to voters with vision disabilities.||Place traffic cones or other barriers that can be detected with a cane, such as planters or portable railings, at or under protruding objects.|
|Doorknobs or handles requires tight grasping, pinching, or twisting.||Install temporary levers or other adapters that do not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting. Alternatively, a temporary doorbell or buzzer system may be used to alert a poll worker to open the door or doors for the voter.|
|Door openings are less than 32 inches wide.||If one door of a double-leaf door is not wide enough, propping open the second door may provide enough clearance.|
|Voting area is crowded with little space at the check-in tables and voting machines, making it difficult for voters with mobility disabilities to move through the voting area.||Arrange check-in tables and voting stations to provide an accessible path for voters to go from the check-in table to the voting station and out again.|
Learn more about temporary solutions for common accessibility problems in Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places.
Ballot Drop Boxes
Ballot drop boxes may be used to provide voters with an alternative to returning an absentee or mail-in ballot through U.S. mail. Election officials should select ballot drop box locations that comply with the ADA’s regulations and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, including an accessible route and a ballot drop box with accessible features.
Learn more about ballot drop box accessibility requirements and find the ADA Checklist for Ballot Drop Boxes in Ballot Drop Box Accessibility; The Americans with Disabilities Act (archive.ada.gov)
A range of accessibility issues can arise on election day.
Election officials may need, for example, to:
- Allow a voter with a disability to sit down instead of stand in a long line to vote.
- Allow a voter with a disability to bring a service animal into the polling place even if the location has a no-pets policy. Learn more about service animals.
- Allow a voter with a disability who needs assistance to have their companion with them in the voting booth.
- Modify other voting policies, practices, or procedures when such modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of a voter’s disability.
Communicating with People with Disabilities
Throughout the voting process, election officials must make sure that communication with people with disabilities is as effective as communication with others. This might require the election officials to provide auxiliary aids or services like sign language interpreters.
For example, a person with a disability who chooses to vote by mail may need elections officials to provide various other aids or services, such as vote-by-mail ballot applications in alternative formats including large print, braille, or another accessible form.
Learn more about what it means to communicate effectively with people with disabilities.
Training for Election Officials
Organizations such as ADA Centers and Protection and Advocacy Systems offer training to elections officials and staff so they understand their obligations under the ADA.
Other Federal Laws That Protect the Rights of Voters with Disabilities
The ADA is not the only federal law that safeguards the voting rights of a person with a disability. Other federal laws include:
|Voting Rights Act of 1965||Requires election officials to allow a voter who is blind or has another disability to receive assistance from a person of the voter’s choice. Prohibits election officials from conditioning the right to vote on being able to read or write, attaining a particular level of education, or passing an interpretation “test.”|
|Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984||Requires election officials to provide either an accessible polling place in federal elections or an alternate means of voting.|
|National Voter Registration Act of 1993||Requires all offices that provide public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities to provide an opportunity to register to vote in federal elections.|
|Help America Vote Act of 2002||Requires election officials responsible for conducting federal elections to:
Learn more about the ADA and voting rights of people with disabilities
- The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities
- ADA Checklist for Polling Places
- Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places
- Ballot Drop Box Accessibility; The Americans with Disabilities Act (ada.gov)
Learn more about the Department’s enforcement of federal civil and criminal laws related to voting at Department of Justice, Voting