Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy because it allows each individual a say in who will represent them and how their government will function. The United States Supreme Court has emphasized this repeatedly, noting that the right to vote is critical because it is “preservative of other basic civil and political rights.” Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 561–62 (1964).
Unfortunately, voting remains inaccessible to many individuals with disabilities. Approximately one in five people eligible to vote has a disability, but voter registration systems, board of election websites, and even physical polling places are all-too-often inaccessible to them.
Making voting accessible to people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do; it’s also required by decades of federal laws and court decisions, dating back to the Voting Rights Act, through 2002’s Help America Vote Act, which established guidelines and provided funding to “ensure full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities, including registering to vote, casting a vote and accessing polling places.” 42 USC § 15461.
Unfortunately, many state and local boards of election websites remain inaccessible to voters with disabilities. In a 2014 study conducted on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Accessible Technology examined the websites of all 20 states that offered online voter registration at that time. With the exception of a single state—California—all were found to have “significant barriers that would make the sites unusable for many people with disabilities.”
The most common problems were inaccessible voter registration forms and sites that were inaccessible with the use of screen readers, but other common problems included poor organization and navigation, the lack of alternative text for images, poor color contrast, and the inability to resize text or re-scale the page.
These issues not only restrict the ability of people with disabilities to vote; they also open the state or local boards of elections up for potential legal liability.
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