by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
2014 is a midterm election year, and it is imperative for South Carolinians with disabilities to rock the disabled vote! Voting is our civil right in this country, and you should not be prevented to exercise this right simply because you have a disability.
With the June 2014 SC Primary coming upon us, I wanted to ensure that every registered disabled voter in the state was aware of their rights in regards to accessibility, the new Photo ID requirement, and how to file a complaint if your civil rights are violated. Equal access and justice when it comes to education, healthcare, and employment are just a few key issues that will be affected by how we as citizens vote this year.
People with disabilities are the LARGEST minority group in this country, and make up over 648,000 strong in the Palmetto state; this means that we are an undeniably important voting bloc, and our voting power has to be exercised, now more than ever.
Accessible Voting Machines & Polling Places:
Each South Carolina voting precinct offers accessible voting machines that has the following features: audio ballot, headphones, and Braille-embossed buttons. The voting machine’s design makes it user-friendly; and each machine has large fonts, a 15-inch full-color touch screen display, and is lightweight to be portable for curbside and tabletop use.
Each South Carolina county election commission has an obligation to find polling places that are accessible to ALL voters. For every election season, increasing accessibility at polling places is a priority. Such accessibility considerations include:
- Wider entrance doors
- Entrance ramps and curb cuts
- Railing along the stairs and sidewalks
- Paved parking and designated disability parking
- Van accessible parking spaces
- Sidewalks from the parking spaces to the building entrance
- Door handles that can be opened with a closed fist
- Signs to direct the voter to entrances that are accessible
- Electronic curbside call systems
Receiving Assistance When Voting
Voters with disabilities including those with visual impairments, and literacy difficulties, have the right to seek assistance during the voting process. If you fit into any of these groups, you must inform the poll manager(s) that you will require assistance to vote. You have the right to choose anyone to assist you in casting your ballot except the following persons: your employer, an agent to your employer, an officer of your union, or an agent of your union.
If you have a hearing impairment, you have the right to request printed instructions to cast your vote. The poll manager(s) is required to have this documentation on hand to distribute, as needed.
If you are unable to access your assigned polling place or stand in line to vote due to your disability, you may cast your vote from your vehicle. You do not need to have a disabled parking placard to access the curbside voting option. Poll managers are supposed to monitor the designated curbside voting location every 15 minutes. Unless you require assistance to cast your vote, only you are permitted to be in the vehicle while voting. Your driver and other passengers who may be with you are not entitled to receive this accommodation unless they meet the qualifications (disability status and/or being age 65 or older).
The Photo ID Requirement – Know Your Options:
2014 will be the first election year in South Carolina where Photo IDs will be required to be shown in order to vote. When voting in person, the following forms of photo identification will be accepted:
- SC Driver’s License
- SC Department of Motor Vehicles ID Card
- Voter Registration Card with Photo
- Federal Military ID
- U.S. Passport
If You Do Not Have a Photo ID
You can get a Photo ID for FREE from your county voter registration and elections office OR your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
If You Forget to Bring Your Photo ID to Your Polling Place
You have the option to vote a provisional ballot that will count only if you show your Photo ID to the elections commission prior to certification of the election (usually Thursday or Friday after the election).
For the June 2014 SC Primary, you will need to show your Photo ID to your county election commission by Thursday, June 12th before 1:00 p.m.
For the November 2014 General Elections, you will need to do so by Friday, November 7th before 1:00 p.m..
If You Cannot Obtain a Photo ID
If you are unable to obtain a Photo ID due to your disability status, you may be able to state that you have a reasonable impediment because of your status. A reasonable impediment is any valid reason, beyond your control, which has created an obstacle for you to obtain a Photo ID.
How this works
Bring your non-photo voter registration card with you to your designated polling venue, and inform the poll manager(s) about not being able to acquire a Photo ID. You will be giving the opportunity to vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit, stating your claim for reasonable impediment.
Your provisional ballot will be counted UNLESS someone proves to your county election commission that you lied about your identity or having the impediment.
Other qualifying circumstances for this exception includes:
- Conflict with work schedule
- Lack of transportation
- Lack of birth certificate
- Family responsibilities
- Religious objection to being photographed
- And any other obstacle you find reasonable
Considering Voting Absentee?:
Voting absentee is a great option for those who have a disability and/or are elderly, limited transportation options, and/or do not have a photo ID.
Request an Absentee Application
You may request an absentee application by mail or in-person. If you decide to obtain your absentee application by mail, you can make your request by phone to your county voter registration office, or get the application online.
Once you have received your absentee application, you must complete and sign it, and return it to your county voter registration office as soon as possible. (Return your application no later than 5:00 p.m. on the 4th day prior to the election. The 4th day is Friday for all Tuesday elections.) You may return your application several ways: by mail, email, fax, or personal delivery.
Completing Your Absentee Ballot
Once your absentee application have been received and processed, you will be mailed an absentee ballot. In your absentee ballot packet, you will find ballot instructions that will inform you on how to cast your vote absentee. Once you have completed your ballot, you may either mail it or return it in-person. You can also designate someone to return the ballot to your county voter registration office on your behalf; be sure to complete the authorization to return absentee ballot form that is in your packet for this option.
If You Experience Voting Discrimination:
Unfortunately, voting discrimination is alive and well in 2014, despite the plethora of federal laws that exist to combat this issue. If you experience voting discrimination because you are a person with a disability, you have the right to file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ takes every complaint and report of your civil rights violation seriously.
The Voting Section of the DOJ oversees possible violations of the federal voting rights laws. Below are the various ways in which you can file your voting complaint:
- By telephone (toll free): (800) 253-3931
- By telephone: (202) 307-2767
- By letter to the addresses below:
U.S. Postal Service mail (this includes certified and express mail) should be sent to:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
959 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Deliveries by overnight express services (such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS) should be sent to:
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Where to Learn More About Voting with a Disability in South Carolina:
Most of the information provided in this article was obtained from the SC Votes webpage. SC Votes has a special tab on its website for voters with disabilities, where you can learn more about voting assistance and curbside voting, watch helpful videos, obtain instructions for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing, and print a large voter registration application. You can also learn about key deadlines for this election year by reviewing the SC Election Calendar.
For My Non-South Carolinian Disabled Voters:
If you would like to know more about voting with a disability, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a great resource page for voters with disabilities: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx
Remember, an informed voter is an EMPOWERED voter. Rock your right to vote!
(Featured headline image: Courtesy of Your Mira.)