Assisting Voters with Disabilities
Most individuals with disabilities are able to vote completely independently. However, some individuals with disabilities require assistance with part or all of the voting process. Almost anyone, including a friend, family member, care provider, or poll worker, can provide assistance to an individual with a disability. In this publication, a person providing assistance to the voter will be referred to as the “assistant.” This publication will explain the role of the assistant in helping an individual with a disability before, during, and after the voting process.
Before the Vote
The assistant indicates that help is available
The assistant does not assume an individual with a disability needs help voting. The assistant respects the voter’s choice to vote independently, but makes it clear that assistance with voting is available. The assistant does not provide assistance unless the voter expressly requests help.
The assistant supports the voter’s independence
The assistant knows that helping someone vote may be perceived as having control over the voter. To prevent unduly influencing the voter, the assistant:
- avoids expressing personal political opinions to the voter because:
- the voter may feel uncomfortable voting contrary to the assistant’s opinion.
- assistants who are personal care providers risk making a voter feel like the quality of personal care received will be affected by casting a conflicting vote.
- assures the voter that the voter’s decision is confidential.
The assistant confirms voter registration
The assistant should help the individual verify their registation to vote in their current county. The assistant can help the individual use “My Vote” at the Secretary of State’s website.
There are many ways to register to vote or update registration after moving. Some options are: online, by mail, in person, and over the phone. The assistant or the voter can call the Voter Hotline at: (800) 448-4881 for more information, or can access the information on the Secretary of State’s website.
If registering in person, the voter must register at the county auditor's office in their county of residence no later than eight days before the day of the primary, special election, or general election.
The assistant helps identify and obtain voting accommodations
There are many available options to ensure that voting and information about candidates and issues are accessible for every individual. The Assistant evaluates, with the individual, what may be helpful to ensure the most independent and dignified voting process. Accommodation options are available, such as:
- Voting on an Accessible Voting Unit (AVU). Every county has AVUs available at their county election office and at other places as determined by the county. The AVU allows the voter to read and mark the ballot electronically, and provides a variety of accommodation options. AVUs make it possible for many people who are blind or have visual impairments or who cannot read a printed ballot to vote independently and privately. AVUs also make it possible for a person who cannot mark a ballot due to physical disabilities to vote independently and privately.
- AVU voting is available starting 18 days before Election Day until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
- AVU locations and times of operation can be obtained from county election offices (see below).
- Election officials are available to assist the voter with using the AVU.
- The voter can have the Assistant or another individual help then vote on the AVU.
- Alternative formats for ballots, pamphlets and voters' guides published by state, county, or city election offices. This may include large print, Braille, or audio CDs.
- To request an alternative format or find out what other services may be available, the assistant can call the Voter Hotline at: (800) 448-4881.
- Information is also available on the Secretary of State’s election website or on individual county websites (see below).
The assistant can access election information to help inform the voting process
Washington State offers election information online at the Washington State Elections & Voting website.
Many counties also have election information available online.
- King County
- Pierce County
- Spokane County
- Further county-specific information is available through County Elections Departments, listed on the Secretary of State's website.
During the Vote
The assistant explains instructions on the ballot
Once familiarized with the voting pamphlet, the assistant provides instructions to the voter on how to cast a ballot. This includes reading and explaining the ballot and instructions in a language the voter understands.
The assistant rewords the instructions on how to fill out a ballot to clarify meaning, as appropriate to meet the needs of the individual. The assistant does not alter the content of the information provided for each selection, as doing so can unintentionally influence the individual’s vote.
The assistant asks the voter to identify selections
- Asks the voter what choice the voter wants to make.
- Never makes assumptions as to the voter’s preferences.
- Never makes suggestions about voting preference.
- Incorrect Example: Voter belongs to political party X, so all candidates with political party X by their name are marked.
- Incorrect Example: “That Mayor X really botched things up last year. Do you want to vote for him or this other guy?”
- Correct Example: (After reading ALL accompanying information on the ballot) “Would you like to vote for X, Y, or Z (as listed in order on the ballot)?”
The assistant marks the ballot upon voter request
The assistant marks the ballot only as directed by the voter. If unsure of the selection, the assistant asks for clarification without adding influencing language.
- Incorrect Example: “Are you sure you want to vote for X rather than Y?”
- Correct Example: “I believe you said you wanted to vote for X. Is that correct?”
The assistant gives the voter the opportunity to privately review the ballot before the vote is cast.
The assistant provides the voter with the opportunity to privately and independently change the ballot before it is cast.
If the voter makes more than one selection for a single position, the assistant informs the voter of the error, explains the effect of the error, and provides the opportunity to fix the error before the ballot is cast.
The assistant ensures the ballot is appropriately signed
If a ballot is being mailed, the ballot will only be counted if it is returned in the return envelope and the affidavit is signed with a valid signature in the place provided for the signature on the envelope. If the assistant determines that a voter is unable to sign their name:
- The voter makes a mark in the signature area.
- Two people witness the mark. The assistant may witness the mark along with one other person.
- The two witnesses to the voter’s mark sign the envelope in the indicated area.
If the voter is voting at a voting center and cannot sign their ballot or uses a mark, the voter must be identified by another registered voter.
The assistant avoids improper influence
- Never makes decisions for the voter.
- Incorrect Example: Marking or changing the ballot to reflect a choice other than a choice expressed by the voter.
- Never communicates with the voter in a way that makes the voter feel forced to make certain choices.
- Incorrect Example: “X, Y, and Z are running for this position, but really, only X and Y stand a chance. Any votes for Z are just a waste of time.”Avoids pressuring the voter to vote for a particular candidate or in a certain way.
- Incorrect Example: “If initiative 000 doesn’t get enough ‘Yes’ votes, they are going to cut all your benefits!”
- Never withholds information or gives false information to a voter.
- Knows the voter is not required to cast a vote on every measure or candidate.
- Always respects the privacy of the voter.
- Is careful not to suggest, persuade, or attempt to suggest or persuade any voter to vote for or against any candidate or ballot measure while in a voting center. Doing so may result in being charged with a gross misdemeanor.
- Knows certain individuals are not allowed to help a person with a disability vote:
- The voter’s employer or agent of the employer;
- The voter’s union representative or agent.
After the vote
The assistant protects the voter’s privacy
The assistant respects the privacy of the voter at all times during the voting process. This includes:
- Ensuring that the voter’s choices remain private even after the voting process has been completed.
- Refraining from discussing the assistance provided. It is the voter’s choice whether or not to disclose this information to individuals outside of the voting process.
Rooted in Rights video: People with assistants have equal voting rights
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