The 2020 election was unusual in many respects – COVID-19 made many voters reluctant to participate in person, and turnout in many states was at a record high. And for some people with disabilities, 2020 marked a move in a positive direction.
A survey conducted for the federal Election Assistance Commission found that fewer voters reported barriers to casting a ballot accessibly.
Lisa Schur and Doug Kruse are co-directors of the Program for Disability Research in the school of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Kruse and Schur told Texas Standard that voters with disabilities can face a variety of barriers to casting a ballot, from gaining physical access to a polling place, to experiencing difficulty using voting machines, to reading mail-in ballots.
The new survey, which compared the experiences of disabled voters in the 2020 election to those who voted in the 2012 election, found that 18% of voters with disabilities who voted in person reported issues in 2020, compared to 30% in 2012.
“We think that about half of that is due to real improvements in polling place accessibility,” Schur said. “The other half is that, this time around, due to COVID, a lot of people who might otherwise have voted in polling places and expected to experience difficulties, decided to vote by mail-in ballot.”
Schur says many respondents to their survey want to return to polling places once the pandemic is over.
“Even though voting by mail is easier for many people, including people with disabilities, still, close to half of the people with disabilities said that they would prefer to vote in person in a polling place,” she said. “Some people said that it’s important for them to show up in public and have other people see them voting in person.”
Though Kruse and Schur are not policy experts, they say their survey indicates improvements in voting accessibility have occurred over time, and should be kept up.
“Depending upon the type of impairment that people with disabilities have, there may be a different voting method that’s appropriate for them,” Kruse said. “The more voting methods there are, the better.”