Voters With Disabilities

Lynda Roberts, Registrar of Voters, Elections

More information, by Fred Nisen and Bill Hershon, Disability Rights California, 2016.

Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, polling places should be accessible to persons with disabilities and this includes accessible path of travel and accessible voting systems.

There are over 5.9 Million People with Disabilities in California.

  • Mobility Impairments
  • Visual Impairments
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Cognitive and Mental Health Impairments
  • Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities

Open All Panels

  • Things To Do Before Polls Open
    1. Set up accessible voting systems
    2. Make sure poll workers know how to work the voting systems, including:
      1. Be able to instruct voters on how to use the accessible voting systems
      2. Check for accessibility barriers
        • Accessible Parking
        • Make sure accessible door is unlocked
        • Make sure there is nothing that a person with a visual disability will trip on either something on the ground or something protruding into the path of travel
        • Make sure the elevators are working (and not locked)
        • Make sure there are signs with arrows leading to the accessible entrance
  • Accessible Voting System

    Poll workers should offer
    the accessible voting system to every voter.

    Because . . .

    1. People with non-visible disabilities who may need the accessible voting system may not know to ask.
    2. It will help ensure the voting system is plugged in and operational.
    3. The Secretary of State’s Office has indicated that they expect every voter to be offered the accessible voting system.
  • Assisting Voters with Disabilities
    • Voters with disabilities may have anybody to assist them with voting, except for their employer, an agent for their employer, a member of their union.
      California Election Code Sec. 14282(a).
    • A voter with disabilities may have no more than two persons assist him or her to vote.
      California Election Code Sec. 14282(a).
    • A poll worker should assist a voter with disabilities if he or she requests.
    • A person assisting a person with disabilities to vote must keep all information about the person’s choices confidential.

    Assisting Voters with Disabilities is not a Substitute for Having an Accessible Voting System.

  • Curbside Voting

    If a polling place is not accessible to people with disabilities:

    • A poll worker must bring a regular ballot to a person with disabilities outside of the polling place (e.g., parking lot or sidewalk).
    • If it is not practical to bring the ballot to the person with disabilities, the poll worker must bring a vote by mail ballot to the person with disabilities.

    California Elections Code § 14282(c)

  • Service Animals

    Some individuals with disabilities may be accompanied by and sometimes use a service animal. Under federal anti-discrimination laws, polling places must permit these service animals to assist people with disabilities.

    (28 CFR Sec. 35.130(b)(7))

  • Disability Etiquette

    Basic Guidelines

    Marin County Guide to Etiquette and Behavior for Working with People with Disabilities

    • Make references to the person first then the disability: Say, “a person with a disability” rather then “a disabled person.” However, the latter is acceptable in the interest of conserving print space or saving announcing time. Do not use the term, “handicapped” when referring to a person with a disability.

    Common Courtesies

    • Don’t feel obligated to act as a caregiver to people with disabilities. Offer assistance, but wait until your offer is accepted before you help. Listen to any instructions the person may give.
    • Share the same social courtesies with people with disabilities that you share with someone else. If you shake hands with people you meet, offer your hand to everyone you meet, regardless of disability. If the person is unable to shake your hand, he or she will tell you.
    • When offering assistance to a person with a visual impairment, allow that a person to take your arm. This will enable you to guide, rather than propel or lead the person. Use specific directions, such as “left one-hundred feet” or right two yards,” when directing a person with a visual impairment.


    • When talking to a person who has a physical disability, speak directly to that person, not through a companion. For people who communicate through sign language, speak to them, not the interpreter.
    • When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others. For example, say, “On my right is John Smith.” Remember to identify persons to whom you are speaking. Speak in a normal tone of voice and indicate when the conversation is over. Let them know when you move from one place to another.
  • Voters Under Conservatorship

    (Capacity to Vote)
    SB 589

    • In California, persons under a conservatorship are presumed to have the capacity to vote unless a court determines he/she is unable to communicate, with or without reasonable accommodation, a desire to participate in the voting process.
    • Lack of competence is NOT a permissible basis to challenge a voter.
    • The poll worker should not make assumptions about a person’s ability to vote based on the person’s disability.
  • Tips For Poll Workers

    Poll workers should be trained in simple steps they can take to help communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. Poll workers should be trained to:

    • Make eye contact. Wait until the person can see you before speaking.
    • Look at the person while speaking.
    • Speak clearly and in a normal voice.
    • Make sure your face and lips are visible.
    • Use good lighting, don’t stand in front of the light source.
    • Repeat for rephrase your question or statement if necessary.
    • Have paper and pencil available to exchange written information when necessary.
    • Be patient and courteous.