Texas law allows voters with disabilities to bring someone with them to the polls to assist them in casting a ballot. But last year’s changes to election law, as part of Senate Bill 1, have voters and those who assist them worried that they could inadvertently run afoul of the new, more restrictive rules, especially paid attendants who help voters.
Molly Broadway is a voting technical-support specialist with Disability Rights Texas. She tells Texas Standard that while paid attendants can assist voters with disabilities, many people don’t know that. Other aspects of SB 1 are also unclear when it comes to voters with disabilities.
Feb. 25 is the last day to vote early in Texas primary elections. March 1 is Election Day. If you have questions about your rights as a voter with disabilities, call the Disability Rights Texas hotline at 888-796-VOTE (8683).
Listen to the full interview with Broadway in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Give us an idea of the kinds of assistance people with disabilities might need when going to the polls.
Molly Broadway: There are a plethora of options that voters with disabilities can utilize if voting at the polls. One of the main ones being accessible voting machines. There’s also the option to bring a person of your own choosing to assist you when casting your ballot, or asking a poll worker to assist you. You can also utilize curbside voting if your polling site is not physically accessible, or you would injure yourself or cause risk to your health when entering the polling sites.
When it comes to having someone assist a voter at the polls during this election cycle, what changed under SB 1 that passed last year?
The main change has been a change to the oath that an assistant takes. Previously an individual would give their name and their address to serve as an assistant and take the oath. Now, the individual must provide their name, their address, their relationship to the voter and in the oath that they take, they also are swearing – to a point of perjury if they’re not telling the truth – they are swearing that they have not been compensated for their time in assisting the voter. And then also that there are certain ways they have not assisted the voter, and that could be through verbal cues or reminding the voter about who or what they wanted to vote for.
Many supporters of the law say that closer scrutiny of voter-assistance practices protects voters from possible exploitation. Is that accurate?
I understand where they’re coming from. But your main concern is if you are someone who uses a personal attendant that you’re paying for that service. And one of the primary roles of a personal attendant is to assist you in your day-to-day activities, and in voting is part of that day-to-day activity and the technicality comes up.
What concerned us is your personal attendant is being paid. And so technically, are they perjuring themselves if they sign the oath that they were not being paid? But there was a clause for people who serve as personal attendants or caregivers to the voter that if that is your role, that particular clause in the oath does not apply to you. So if you are a personal attendant and you are concerned about whether or not you can sign the oath, feel free to do so because that section where it says paid or compensated does not apply to you as an attendant
Has the secretary of state or anyone else from the state provided ongoing clarification for people with disabilities who have questions about the law?
We try our best to communicate with the secretary of state when questions come up. We haven’t received feedback on all the questions that we have asked regarding the application for a ballot by mail, which is another form of assistance if someone cannot leave their home because of a disability. There were concerns about the identification numbers that must be filled out on the application. And so the secretary of state eventually has come out to say you can fill out both forms of identification, being the last four numbers of your Social Security number and your state ID.
But in regards to a lot of questions that are coming up in respect to the new SB 1 laws, a lot of it is also trial and error almost like, here are these laws that have happened, and we’re not really sure how this is going to come out in real life. How this is going to play out. So there’s a lot more questions and answers at this current time.
And I suppose a lot of people fearing that a misstep could end up with a prosecution, perhaps?
What advice would you have for people with disabilities who want to cast a vote and need assistance doing so, and don’t want to run afoul of the law? What do you tell them?
I would review what kind of assistance they’re looking for and if it is just a matter of asking someone to assist. I would let them know that they have the right to choose anybody of their choice as long as it’s not their employer or their union representative. But the assistant should be aware of the additional information that must be provided when filling out the form and giving the oath.
Also, I would inform them about what types of accessibility features there are on the accessible voting machines and that poll workers should know how to use that accessible voting machine and that it should be turned on. Because we receive a lot of reports that poll workers don’t necessarily know how to use all the accessibility features.
And also, especially in regards to interpreters and curbside voting. I encourage voters just as a means of making sure they’ve covered all their bases. I encourage them to contact the county at their county elections office and go ahead and request ahead of time for an interpreter, which is a service that the county must provide.
If they’re wanting to curbside vote, having the county contact the polling site and essentially arranging a date for your curbside voting. That way, everybody’s kind of in a fail safe mode of providing you the best services possible.
We have a statewide voter rights hotline. We are available to answer questions and problem solve in real time. That phone number is 888-796-VOTE (8683).