The right to vote is a cornerstone of democracy and is among our most fundamental rights as citizens. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed." This consent is largely expressed through voting, but if a portion of the public faces significant barriers to exercising this fundamental right, can we truly say we have the consent of the governed?
Almost 25 percent of the electorate is 65 or older, many of whom cannot vote in person. Persons with disabilities made up one-sixth of eligible voters in the 2016 election, yet only 40 percent of polling places were accessible. Voter turnout rates for Native Americans and Alaska Native registered voters is between 5 to 14 percent lower than turnout rates for other racial and ethnic groups, mostly due to the distance needed to travel to polling places and drop off boxes for absentee ballots. Further, nearly 26 million individuals in the United States have limited English proficiency. These communities represent a large part of the electorate; however, their voting needs are often overlooked and thus their representation hindered.
To reduce some of these barriers, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Mary Gary Scanlon (D-PA) last month introduced legislation to improve access to voting in federal elections for individuals with disabilities, older individuals, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and individuals with limited English proficiency. The Accessible Voting Act (S. 1470/H.R. 2941) would address these issues in several ways, including by making polling places and voting systems more accessible, expanding options for casting a ballot in federal elections, and establishing the Office of Accessibility within the Election Assistance Commission to support and oversee state efforts to expand voter accessibility, while serving as a resource for advocates and voters.
As Senator Casey noted: “The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy. That right is jeopardized when seniors and people with disabilities are pushed to the margins by barriers that prevent or make it hard for them to cast their ballots. The Accessible Voting Act would remove these barriers and support the ongoing efforts by state and local agencies to make voting a truly equitable and accessible process.”
So far, there are no Republican cosponsors listed for the Accessible Voting Act, and its fate remains uncertain. The American Bar Association will monitor developments involving this legislative proposal and others designed to help ensure that all voters can participate in the electoral process on full and equal terms.
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