The central idea of disability advocacy is “nothing about us without us.” This is the idea that representatives should not make decisions that impact a group without that group’s full and active participation in the decision making process. If you want to join that process, the first and perhaps most important step is voting.
Registering to vote online
You can register to vote online at IndianaVoters.com. You must register 29 days before the next election in order to vote, which means this year, you have to register before October 9. To register, click “Register to vote online.” You will need to answer some basic questions, including your name and address. You will also need a driver’s license or state ID. You will have to provide your ID number.
If you need an Indiana ID but don’t have one, you can visit your nearest Bureau of Motor Vehicles office to apply for one. You will need proof of your identity, your Social Security number, and your legal residency in the United States and in Indiana.
For proof of your identity, you can use a birth certificate or US passport. For proof of your Social Security number, you can use your Social Security card, a W-2 tax form, or a pay stub with your name and Social Security number on it. If you use your Social Security card, this is also proof of your legal residency in the United States.
To prove your Indiana residency, you will need a utility bill, a credit card bill, or a doctor or hospital bill. The bills must have your name and address, and they must be no more than 60 days old.
If you move or change your name, you need to reregister. To reregister, click “Update my voter registration”. If you are reregistering, you will need to provide both your previous address and your new address. (Or previous name and new name.)
To see the candidates who will be on your ballot, click “Review candidates on my ballot.” Last time I checked, this feature of the website was not working, but hopefully it will be up and running before the election.
Before you vote, you should learn about the candidates. There are a lot of places online where you can find candidate information, but their accessibility varies.
This is Indiana’s Election Division. Click on “Candidates” in the list on the left, and you can search for candidates in Indiana state-level races. If you don’t know their name, just select the office and click “search”. If you get an error that says “too many results”, you have to go back and add a district number or party. You can see the candidates’ names, parties, and if their campaign is active or disbanded.
Congress.org is a great place to find current office holders. If you go to Congress.org, there is a form on the right side of the page labeled “your ZIP code here”. Enter your ZIP code with the plus 4. For example, I would enter 46628-3730. This takes you to a page that lists your federal and state representatives. Each one of these names is a link. If you click on a name, it takes you to a page with some brief background information, and contact information, usually a mailing address, telephone numbers and a web form where you can send them an email.
At iga.in.gov, you can find all sorts of information about state officeholders. If you click “Find Your Legislator”, it will take you to a search form that will find your representative and senator at the state and federal level. Each person will have telephone numbers, addresses, and a link to their website. Usually their personal websites have contact forms where you can send them emails, and a news or press release page where you can get a good idea of what issues they support.
Click on “Legislation by Legislator”, and then “House Representatives Alphabetical Listing” or “Senators Alphabetical Listing”. Click your representative’s name, and this will take you to a page where you can see the bills they authored, sponsored, or co-sponsored in the 2012 session.
At OpenCongress.org, you can find detailed information about your representatives in Congress. If you search for their name, you’ll be taken to their profile page. This has links to bills they’ve sponsored and cosponsored, their recent voting history and past voting record, recent press coverage about them, and lots more. If you click on “money trail”, you can see who their campaign donations come from.
You can also search by issue. If you are interested in Social Security, you can search for “Social Security” and find all the bills related to that issue. On individual bill pages, you can see the sponsor and cosponsors, and who voted for or against the bill.
Before we move on to voting, I’ll mention one more website. VoteSmart.org is a great resource that has information on candidates at the federal and state level, including recent public statements they’ve made, recent key votes, and ratings from special interest groups. It’s relatively easy to find information about congressional races, but VoteSmart.org also has information on candidates for Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and other races.
However, try as I might, I could not get VoteSmart.org to work with JAWS. There is so much valuable information there, it still might be worth checking out, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work.
In Indiana, no form of disability disqualifies anyone from voting, including cognitive, developmental, mental, sensory, or physical disabilities. Unlike our neighbors Ohio and Kentucky, Indiana does not disenfranchise people “judged mentally incompetent by a court of law”.
If you are a voter who is blind or has low vision, accommodations should be made available so that you can cast your vote privately, such as the accessible voting machine I’ve been showing today. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires at least one accessible voting machine be placed in each polling place.
However, if you have a disability that might give you trouble with filling out a ballot or using a voting machine, you can designate anyone to come into the voting booth to help you, except for your employer or union representative. If you don’t have a friend or family member available to assist you, you can ask for help before entering the voting booth, and two poll workers (one from each major party) will enter the booth to assist you. They are legally not permitted to tell anyone how you voted.
When you go to your polling place, there may be accessibility problems like a lack of accessible parking or stairs to the entrance but no wheelchair ramp. Polling places are required to be accessible, and voters must be able to get inside the building and into the voting booth. (Even if a voter cannot get inside, it is illegal for poll workers to bring a ballot out to a voter’s car.)
To file a complaint about accessibility issues, call 866-IN-1-VOTE (886-461-8683).
Polling Place Accessibility Requirements
Each precinct needs to have at least one accessible parking space for people with disabilities. If a facility does not have permanent accessible parking spaces, there must be at least one space per precinct designated with proper signage.
Parking spaces must be on firm, level ground, and on asphalt or pavement – free of loose gravel.
Parking spaces must be clearly designated by postmounted signs bearing the symbol of accessibility and high enough to be seen when a vehicle is parked in the space.
There must also be a level passenger drop-off zone at least 4 feet wide by 20 feet long close to the path of travel.
Walkways or Pathways to the Building
At least one accessible walkway is required – if the route is not obvious, signs must be placed along the route to direct voters. Stairs along the walkway must have non-slip surfaces and handrails.
Walkways and sidewalks must be at least 3 feet wide to accommodate wheelchairs and free of abrupt edges and overhanging objects lower than 80 inches.
Each polling place must have one accessible entrance. If the entrance has automatic doors, they should stay open at least 3 seconds. No rigid or hard objects may project in the path of travel, and door thresholds must be no more than ½ inch high.
This is not an ADA requirement, but the Indiana Election Division recommends that the walkway be free of any grating with openings of over 1/2 inch* and breaks in surface above 1/4 inch in height.* They also recommend that the surface of walkways be firm and stable– no loose gravel. (also free of snow, ice, leaves, debris)
Inside the Voting Area
The arrangement of the voting area must allow easy movement. All necessary parts of the voting system can be no higher than 48 inches. Tops of tables and counters must be between 28 and 34 inches high.
This is not an ADA requirement, but the Indiana Election Division recommends that instructions for voting should be printed in at least 14-point type and prominently displayed, and that magnifying devices should be available for those who request them.
(Originally presented to the American Council of the Blind of Indiana in 2012)