As the 2020 US Election approaches, & following the UK General Election last year, issues surrounding accessibility in voting have become increasingly important. From being able to read what’s on the ballot to the actual act of voting, disabled people have encountered barriers at every stage.
As someone who has voted in every election, whatever the magnitude, since becoming eligible, it surprises many people to learn that I’ve never been in a polling station. Travelling to & from polling stations is a problem as nearby car-parking is limited, & public transport is unreliable when it comes to accommodating disabled people. Often the polling station itself is inaccessible, as even if accessible routes are available, they are obstructed to “prevent people voting twice”. Often, it’s stated that someone will come to unblock the route, but this relies on being with someone able-bodied who can enter the polling station to alert them of your presence.
Now I know what you’re thinking; there are other options when it comes to voting, so polling stations don’t need to be accessible & disabled people are just whining! Unfortunately, those other options can be just as problematic.
In the UK at least, you can nominate someone to vote on your behalf. This is entirely dependent on having someone dependable who you can trust, and has to be arranged ahead of time, so if something happened to the proxy, that would essentially be the vote of the disabled person as well as their own lost. Also, it would be nice if disabled people could vote independently.
The other option, which is the option I make use of, is postal voting. A ballot is posted to you, & several weeks before everyone else (usually before debates & canvassing have become regular in the UK, both of which present their own accessibility issues in regards to large print, subtitles, or sign language interpretation), you must submit your vote. The print is quite small for anyone with a serious visual impairment, and the anti-tampering envelope system is fiddly to say the least. Then you simply need to find a nearby post-box, which are often so tall as to be incredibly inaccessible. After that, it is assumed that your vote reaches its destination untampered with, or reaches it at all. In fact, many have expressed concerns over whether or not postal votes are received & counted, meaning it is possible that every single vote I have ever cast has been useless. Regardless, for me, this is the most accessible option.
The discriminatory practices are troubling in & of themselves, but they also contribute to a problem that is arguably even worse; voter suppression. Voting practices may make it harder for certain populations to cast their votes, & not just in regards to disabled people.
For example, voting is nearly always done on one single weekday which isn’t a bank holiday, so most people are at work. For many working-class individuals who need multiple jobs just to make ends meet, they lose their chance to vote. A reduction in the number of polling stations & post-boxes in densely-populated areas also increases their demand, meaning less people get to vote even if they do everything within their power to be there.
While I’m fairly certain that these practices are not openly discussed as tactics to win an election, although I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to be proven wrong on that point, the implications of those practices will remain the same; the people most effected by those in power will have the least say in the decision.