Ballot Access Still a Challenge for Some Illinoisans with Disabilities

Oct 6, 2020

The pandemic has pushed the issue of voter access to the forefront, but for Illinois' disability community, it's more than just another talking point.

Voter turnout for people with disabilities was 6 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities in the 2016 presidential election. Barry Taylor, vice president at Equip for Equality, said some people with disabilities don't cast a ballot due to accessibility challenges.

"People with disabilities, just like anybody else, should be able to vote privately and independently, and that means being able to get into the polling place and then being able to vote privately and independently once they're there in the polling room," Taylor said. "So in addition to the accessible polling machine, there should also be an accessible polling booth."

It's estimated that nearly 60% of polling locations in the country are inaccessible in some way, shape or form. A recent study from Rutgers University found roughly 1.3 million eligible voters in Illinois have a disability, which represents more than 14% of the total electorate for the general election.

Taylor said even voting by mail has its challenges, particularly for those who are blind or low-vision. However, he noted Illinois has approved the use of an online-accessible vote-by-mail system that allows people with disabilities the option to fill out a ballot at home.

"Illinois has agreed to do this voluntarily, which is really exciting" he said. "The challenge is that each election authority is deciding whether or not to utilize this free service, and we believe it should be a no-brainer and it allows access to all people. But not all election authorities have yet agreed to use this service."

According to researchers at Rutgers, if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as those without disabilities who have the same demographic characteristics, there would be more than 2 million more voters.

Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress Rebecca Cokley contends election officials and candidates need to ensure people with disabilities can exercise their right to vote.

"The disability vote matters. The disability community saved the Affordable Care Act back in 2017. We are a strong community; we are a politically active community," Cokley said. "And so it actually behooves them to make voting as easy as possible for people with disabilities."

Voting information for individuals with disabilities is available at elections.il.gov.