COVID-19 has changed most everything about the way we live. At least it has for the next several months. While we are currently most concerned about things that impact our daily lives – hand sanitizer, face masks, schooling our children at home, virtual work meetings, job loss, and more – we are just now beginning to think about longer term issues. Like the upcoming presidential election. What will voting look like in a COVID-19 world? And how will it impact the accessibility of voting for people with disabilities?
In the wake of the pandemic, the Texas Secretary of State has issued an Election Advisory outlining modified voting procedures meant to prevent the spread of the virus at poll sites. While Disability Rights Texas applauds the efforts of the Secretary and the Governor to expand remote voting, we suggest additional provisions to mail-in procedures, and we urge the Governor to preserve in-person voting in a modified form.
Also, online accessibility will be crucial in the upcoming election. So we also ask that the Governor ensure online requests for mail-in ballots are accessible for people with disabilities. In addition, nursing homes, residential facilities, and other public facilities housing people especially vulnerable to COVID-19 should receive mail-in ballots so that residents are able to vote remotely if they choose to do so. It is important that people with disabilities and hospitalized voters can designate an individual, whether it be a staff member or personal care attendant, to pick up and return the voter’s mail-in ballot.
Expanding mail-in voting measures will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allow many people with disabilities to vote remotely. But modified in-person voting will remain essential to ensuring people with disabilities can cast private, independent votes.
Additionally, rather than closing poll sites located at vulnerable facilities such as nursing homes, DRTx asks that the Governor relocate voting centers to nearby sites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At these locations, accessible, electronic curbside voting machines must be made available to voters with disabilities. Curbside voting will allow people at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 to limit their exposure to the virus while enabling voters with disabilities to access the help of election staff and cast independent votes.
We are living in new times because of COVID-19, but the mission of Disability Rights Texas remains the same. The challenges are novel like the virus, but we will continue to protect the rights of Texans with disabilities in all areas of life, including their right to vote. We call on Governor Abbott and the state of Texas to do the same.