It is time to vote again for our nation’s President and other governmental officials. But this year is like no other we have seen before because we are in the midst of a pandemic. This means advance planning, preparing, and thinking more strategically about how you will cast your ballot as a blind or visually impaired person. Multiple options are available, but choosing the best one will be the deciding factor. How will you stay safe and practice social distancing? How will you vote independently and privately? Is sighted help available if needed? These are all important questions to consider in this year’s election.
Voting Absentee by Mail
Many visually impaired voters are used to voting in person because they can use accessible voting machines. But this year, because of COVID-19, they might not feel safe or comfortable with that option. So, another way to vote is absentee by mail. This option can vary by state and every state’s election rules are different.
Voting Absentee Pointers
- Visit your state’s election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.
- Do this quickly because there is usually a process to request an absentee ballot before actually receiving it.
- Keep in mind that this voting option is not totally accessible and you might need sighted help to fill out forms and the actual ballot.
- Be sure to follow all directions carefully on the ballot, marking it properly and signing correctly so that your ballot will not be disregarded.
- Pay attention to the specific deadlines for mailing in your ballot.
According to the US Postal Service, domestic, non-military voters should mail their completed ballots before Election Day and at least one week prior to their state’s deadline. They also recommend that voters request ballots at the earliest point allowable but no later than 15 days prior to the election date. If you are uncomfortable with the local mail or not sure it will arrive on time you can place your ballot in a secure drop box (a location where voters can drop off absentee/mail ballots in sealed and signed envelopes. The drop boxes may be supervised or unsupervised with security features such as cameras.) If you have questions about the process, don’t hesitate to reach out to your state or county elections office.
Voting in Person
If you don’t get your ballot in time to mail back by the deadline, you might have to vote in person. Depending on your state’s election rules and where you live, voting by mail might not be a viable option. You can vote in person in two ways: early voting and on the actual election day. Early voting (prior to election day) is usually available over several days, including weekends, so you have more flexibility in scheduling. If you decide to vote in person, try to vote early in the day because of COVID-19. You are less likely to experience large crowds and, thus, have more opportunity for social distancing.
Also, because of COVID-19, your poll location might have been moved. Check your state’s election office prior to leaving home to vote.
CDC Guidelines for Voting
Whether you decide to vote in person during early voting or on election day, you need to stay safe and healthy. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has created recommendations for poll locations, poll workers, and voters to follow during COVID-19. Some of those recommendations for election officials are:
1. Provide an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for each step in the voting process where voters interact with poll workers, and after voting. Place sanitizers in visible, frequently used locations such as registration desks and exits.
2. Encourage workers and voters to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or use the inside of their elbow.
3. Recommend and reinforce the use of masks among all workers. Masks are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Provide information to workers on proper use, removal, and washing of masks.
4. Ask workers to disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple people, for example door handles, registration tables, pens, and clipboards.
5. Ask voters to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash their hands before and after leaving the polling location.
Trying to educate yourself about all these options and deal with COVID-19 could be overwhelming and stressful. But know that your vote as a blind or visually impaired person is important, counts, and has power. Voting is a huge part of our democracy and civic engagement. Arming yourself with the tools and resources you need will help you to vote successfully.