The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act is a federal law that Congress passed in 1984 in order to provide protections for disabled and elderly voters. More specifically, polling places nationwide must be accessible to people with disabilities. If there is no accessible polling place available, then there must be some other way for a disabled voter to cast their ballot on the date of the election. Furthermore, state election officials must make registration and voting accommodations for disabled voters by providing them with aids as needed, including telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs).
Accessibility in terms of polling places means that all disabled and elderly people must have the same opportunity to vote as those people who are not disabled in any way. In other words, disabled and elderly people must be able to vote in the same manner as the non-disabled, including enjoying the same rights to privacy and independence in casting their ballots. This degree of accessibility to the polling place must be available on the date of the election, although it need not remain accessible on a permanent basis. Additionally, poll workers must take not discriminate against disabled or elderly voters in any way; any sort of discrimination may result in the polling place not being accessible for all voters.
The Attorney General of the United States is charged with enforcing the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act. Likewise, a private individual who believes that state election officials have violated the Act may bring suit in the appropriate federal district court, after having giving appropriate notice to state election officials, according to procedures outlined in the Act.
Subsequently, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”). While HAVA affects voting rights nationwide in many different respects, HAVA contains important protections for elderly and disabled voters that go beyond the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act. HAVA provides more specific guidelines for states to follow in establishing and maintaining accessible polling places, as well as minimum guidelines to follow in order to ensure accessibility.
HAVA ensures that state and local governments have access to funding in the form of grants that can be used to improve physical and non-visual access to polling places. Furthermore, grants are available to fund research on accessible voting technology. HAVA also provides funding to state and local governments to develop outreach programs and educational information designed to make all disabled and elderly persons aware of their legal voting rights, and the accessibility of polling places. Similarly, states can obtain funding to provide training to election officials, poll workers, and/or election volunteers in terms of making the polls accessible to elderly and disabled voters. States are also required to develop a State Plan in order to comply with HAVA’s mandates, and must include disabled persons in the process of creating a State Plan.