Voting, Accessibility, and the Law

The Help America Vote Act

Election reform legislation became the priority of the 107th Congress following the presidential election of 2000. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), signed into law on October 29, 2002, was enacted as a response to the problems that occurred during that election. In addition, HAVA requires that at least one accessible voting machine be available in all polling places for federal elections. This requirement has enabled many blind and visually impaired voters to vote privately and independently as never before.

Prior to 2002, there was no legal requirement that mandated the right of blind people to vote independently. Regulations in force at that time only recommended that elections officials take steps necessary to afford persons who are blind or visually impaired that right. Consequently, prior to the enactment of HAVA, most voters who were blind or visually impaired had to tell their choices to a sighted person and trust that person to mark their ballot as instructed.

In addition to HAVA, recent changes in U.S. Department of Justice regulations have resulted in the successful application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in voting discrimination cases. Regulations issued under Title II of the ADA require state and local boards of elections to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to provide voters with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of the programs and services offered by the board of elections in a manner that protects the privacy and independence of voters with disabilities. Therefore, when blind voters in California were not able to vote privately and independently at their polling places because of malfunctioning accessible voting machines, and when blind voters in Maryland were not able to vote absentee privately and independently because of an inaccessible paper ballot, federal courts found that they had been discriminated against under Title II of the ADA. The guide is available in Microsoft Word and formatted Braille (BRF).

The Importance of Voting

Voting in any election is important because it provides blind and visually impaired citizens with the opportunity to voice their opinion about elected leaders and policies and to help shape the future by electing candidates who share their views.  Elected officials make decisions and pass legislation that establish the maximum income a blind person can earn while still receiving social security disability benefits, the minimum wage rate paid to blind workers in sheltered workshops, and the health benefits blind citizens receive under Medicare and Medicaid.  Consequently, voting for candidates who share their views on these issues is one of the most effective ways that blind and visually impaired citizens can influence policy and legislation addressing these issues.  To assist protection and advocacy systems personnel, state election boards, and consumer organizations in encouraging the active participation of the blind and visually impaired in voting activities, the NFB has prepared The Blind and Visually Impaired Voter's Guide to Voting.  The guide is available in Microsoft Word, formatted Braille (BRF), and audio format.

The turnout of voters aged eighteen to twenty-four during elections in the United States is typically very low. To help increase the participation of voters in this age group who are blind or visually impaired, the NFB has prepared a voting guide written specifically for them. The Voting Guide for Young People who are Blind or Visually Impaired helps to take the mystery out of voting by describing how accessible voting machines work, what to expect at the polling place, and what to do when things go wrong.

The Blind Voter Experience

The informative video below features voters who are blind or visually impaired talking about the importance of voting, what is was like to vote with assistance before the passage of HAVA, and how it feels to be able to now vote privately and independently. The video also discusses the federal laws that guarantee the right of voters who are blind or visually impaired to vote privately and independently and includes scenarios to show voters how to assert this right at the polling place.

Hosting a voter registration drive is a meaningful way that protection and advocacy personnel, consumer organizations, and service groups can encourage the blind and visually impaired members of their community to participate in the electoral process. The NFB has developed a guide that contains suggestions for planning and conducting a voter registration drive that will be accessible to the blind. The Blind Voter Registration Drive Guide is available in Microsoft Word and formatted Braille (BRF).

Surveys of Blind Voters

Between 2008 and 2018, the National Federation of the Blind conducted surveys of blind and visually impaired voters with funding from a Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Training/Technical Assistance Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These surveys were conducted to assess: (1) the number of blind voters who cast their ballot at the polls using an accessible voting machine; (2) the most significant barriers faced by blind voters in these elections; (3) poll workers' knowledge of the process of using the accessible voting machine; and (4) blind voters' overall satisfaction with their voting experience.

The data collected from these surveys shows an increase in the number of blind voters who voted at the polls, an increase in the number of voters who cast their ballots on accessible voting machines, as well as an increase in the percentage of blind voters who reported they were able to cast private and independent ballots. However, the surveys show that the greatest barrier to voting privately and independently faced by blind voters remains the untrained poll workers who do not know how to set up or operate the accessible voting machines.

2023 Blind Voter Survey 

2020 Blind Voter Survey

2018 Blind Voter Survey

2016 Blind Voter Survey

2014 Blind Voter Survey

2012 Blind Voter Survey

2008 Blind Voter Survey

A flyer summarizing the results of the survey for election officials and protection and advocacy personnel is available in a Microsoft Word and Duxbury formats.

Accessible Vote-by-Mail Toolkit

The number of states and local jurisdictions that are considering converting to all vote-by-mail is increasing because it is cheaper than conventional poll-based voting systems and is more convenient for voters. As with any paper ballot system, an accessible way for blind, low-vision, or other print-disabled voters to privately and independently mark their ballots must be provided, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This toolkit will provide voting rights advocates with the information and tools they need to ensure that an accessible method of ballot marking is included in legislation to convert a state or local jurisdiction to all vote-by-mail.

Poll Worker Recruitment and Training

Poll workers who are blind and have experience voting on accessible machines can help eliminate this barrier. The NFB has developed a flyer that contains information that can be used to conduct a workshop to educate and encourage blind voters to become poll workers. The Blind Poll Worker Recruitment Flyer is available in Microsoft Word and formatted Braille (BRF).

A flyer for use in poll worker training is available in Microsoft Word and Duxbury formats.

Affiliate Voting Liaison Program

As a result of the Help America Vote Act, the opportunity to cast a private and independent ballot now exists for blind and visually impaired voters in all federal elections. However, untrained poll workers, voting machine malfunctions, and the lack of accessible voting machines in the polling places are preventing some blind and visually impaired voters from fully exercising this right. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Affiliate Voter Liaison program was created by the NFB to provide our members with tools and resources they can use in working with state and local elections officials to remove the barriers that make elections inaccessible to blind and visually impaired voters. The resources contained in the guide prepared for this program, The Affiliate Voter Liaison Toolkit, can be used by any organization to develop a grassroots voter liaison program in its community. This program was developed under a HAVA training/technical assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living.

Why the NFB?

The grant requires the eligible entity to be a public or nonprofit entity with demonstrated experience in voting issues for the disabled, governed by a board with the majority of its members being disabled or having family members who are disabled. The NFB applied for, and ultimately was awarded, the grant because of its long commitment to research and improvement of nonvisual technology. Due in large part to the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC), the NFB has emerged as a leader in knowledge on nonvisual technology. The NFB further meets the grant requirement because it is a membership organization consisting mostly of blind members.

Goals for the Grant

 The NFB's two primary objectives are to demonstrate and evaluate the usability of  nonvisual election technology; and to provide disability advocates and election officials with a source of expert information about such technology so that blind and    visually impaired individuals will be able to cast secret ballots with accessible technology installed at every polling place in America. The primary objectives are called for by the Help America Vote Act and come particularly from section 291 of the Act.

These primary objectives will be accomplished by means of three subordinate objectives: (1) to establish and operate a National Center on Nonvisual Election Technology, which will be used to demonstrate and evaluate the usability of relevant technology in a non-marketing context;(2) to develop and publish recommended criteria to serve as a guide in the evaluation and selection of election technology suitable for nonvisual use; and (3) to provide advocacy and election personnel with knowledge to make informed decisions on the procurement and implementation of election technology suited for nonvisual use.