As Congress Passes Voting Reform, Disability Advocates Express Concern over Paper Ballots

March 5, 2021
As Congress Passes Voting Reform, Disability Advocates Express Concern over Paper Ballots

Late Wednesday night, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2021, legislation aimed at strengthening American democracy by increasing access to the ballot box, eliminating gerrymandering, addressing problems related to the campaign finance system and establishing stronger ethics rules for public servants in America.

The bill expands voter access by addressing the many barriers to voting in America, such as onerous registration and vote by mail systems, and limited voting hours across the country. Additionally, the bill prohibits deceptive practices and prevents voter intimidation, prohibits voter caging and restores federal voting rights to disenfranchised Americans.

The legislation also includes specific provisions enhancing access for voters with disabilities. H.R. 1 ensures voters with disabilities the right to use absentee voting procedures to register to vote and cast their ballots; requires states to establish processes for people with disabilities to register to vote and request an absentee ballot by mail and electronically; ensures drop boxes are fully accessible; establishes procedures to securely transmit blank absentee ballots by mail or electronically and invests in the research and development of accessible voting machines.

The vast majority of the provisions included in H.R. 1 will positively impact all voters in America, including voters with disabilities. However, it must be understood that the paper ballot mandate also included in the bill is of great concern to many voters with disabilities as the ability to mark, verify, and cast a paper ballot privately and independently is currently not an option for all voters. In January 2021, 20 national disability organizations issued a joint statement expressing concerns over any paper ballot mandate.

Before H.R. 1 becomes the law of the land, the rights of voters with disabilities cannot be ignored. Congress must accept its role in protecting the rights of voters with disabilities. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • offering solutions to those voters who cannot mark, verify, and cast paper ballots privately and independently,
  • reexamining and reauthorizing any paper ballot mandate as new, more accessible and secure technology becomes available, and
  • providing a continual funding stream to state and local election officials for the purpose of making electoral processes fully accessible.

“Rather than overly prescriptive, blanket mandates that create barriers for eligible voters, the focus must be on fostering innovative solutions that make our elections more accessible and more secure through responsible use of technology,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker.

As Congress continues to strengthen our democracy, the National Disability Rights Network looks forward to continuing its work with both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to ensure the rights of voters with disabilities are not being overlooked or forgotten.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.