An inclusive democracy must fully welcome all citizens to participate in its elections. It is not enough merely to open the polling place if substantial numbers of Americans cannot access it. There are more than 25 million U.S. residents with limited English proficiency and up to 46 million Americans with disability accommodation needs. This is why it is important that election officials work with local organizations representing different constituencies to best accommodate all populations.
The Commission recommends that as "a threshold matter, an election official must work with community groups in order to understand the needs of voters with disabilities and limited English proficiency, as well as to gain assistance and advice as to how to meet those needs."
In our review, Colorado had some of the best examples demonstrating how advisory groups can work closely with election officials.
In 2007, Colorado's then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman established a Voter Accessibility, Independence and Privacy Task Force made up of advocates for the disabled, with a primary focus on the use of electronic voting machines.
To help voters with limited English proficiency, Denver established a Spanish Language Voting Advisory Committee (ACCESO) by city ordinance in 2010. ACCESO's mission is to "provide advice and guidance to the � Elections Division to assist in communicating to the Spanish language community for purposes of providing elections information and promoting voting and participation of all citizens in the elections process." It meets monthly leading up to general and local elections.
Louisiana's Election Assistance for Disabilities (LEAD) Advisory board provides guidance on disability issues and the elections process. Among other duties, it is tasked with the development of best practices to promote access to and participation in elections by individuals with disabilities. The Secretary of State's office reports that Louisiana has a contract with the Advocacy Center to conduct training throughout the state for those with disabilities, including veterans and senior citizens. This includes allowing voters to practice on the accessible voting machines.
We encourage states to enact similar laws and ordinances to establish formal advisory groups. All of the states examined in this report have organizations on the ground that would serve as vital partners in programs that work to advocate for the needs of non-English speakers and disabled voters.
|FINDINGS BY STATE|