The Hawaii Disability Rights Center, the state’s protection and advocacy agency for individuals with disabilities, understands that people with disabilities can face many hardships, but casting a ballot shouldn’t be one of them. HDRC supports residents with disabilities on all islands to exercise their protected right to vote and fully participate in this significant act of democracy. To successfully navigate Hawaii’s first all-mail general election, HDRC recommends familiarization with the new process; voting early in case problems arise; and tapping HDRC as a free and confidential source of assistance if needed.
According to research conducted by Hawaii Pacific Health and Pali Momi Medical Center (2018), a tenth of the state’s population has reported having a physical, mental or emotional disability. When broadening the definition of disability to include capacity for self-care, mobility, independent living, economic self-sufficiency, self-direction, etc., the figure, according to the U.S. Census, rises closer to fifteen percent; a large enough voting bloc to potentially impact election results.
“It is important for people with disabilities to know that the new systems in place are still required to be accessible” said HDRC’s executive director Louis Erteschik. “We’d like to stress that the Hawaii Disability Rights Center is part of a federal system that’s in every state to protect the right to vote, so that citizens with disabilities and their caregivers have someone reliable to advocate on their behalf.”
HDRC’s work in this area stems from the Help America Vote Act (2002). Their staff of attorneys and advocates strive to ensure that the provisions set forth in HAVA are followed as they relate to people with disabilities.
Erteschik encourages anyone with a disability to make their vote count. “This year’s electoral process is significantly different, but it’s not too late to participate,” he said.
For the first time in state history, people with disabilities or special needs are qualified to request an electronic “Alternate Format Ballot”, emailed as a HTML file. If not dropped off, signed ballots can be faxed, or scanned and emailed to the State Office of Elections. Ballot drop boxes are accessible, and Voter Service Centers will offer accessible same-day registration, in-person voting and ballot collection. As a reminder, Voter Service Centers are limited to one or two in each county, but should have trained staff to help people with disabilities use assistive technology, or voters with disabilities may opt to bring in someone to assist them. A ballot signature issue can be resolved up to five days after the election.
People with disabilities may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus due to health conditions. The State Office of Elections has implemented safety protocols to address public health, including cleaning machines and providing personal protective equipment for staff. PPE is also available for voters.
For information or to speak to an advocate about a concern, individuals with disabilities can contact visit hawaiidisabilityrights.org or call (808) 949-2922 or toll free at (800) 882-1057.