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pile of "vote" buttonsIn this important election season, it is timely to consider polling place accessibility for persons with disabilities. Throughout the years, our office has received calls from the public regarding polling place accessibility and has worked to remove barriers. Some of the more common issues have included; accessible vehicle parking, traveling via an accessible route to and from the polling location, getting into and out of the building where the ballot boxes are located, poll workers and accessibility of machines used to cast ballots.

Fortunately, there are several state and federal laws and regulations that protect the right of persons with disabilities to vote. In addition to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Massachusetts state regulations 950 CMR 51:00 are in place to improve access for persons with disabilities and elderly individuals to polling places and the voting process. This state regulation is an implementation of the federal Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, 42 USC §§ 1973ee-1973ee-6, and Amended Article 114 of the Massachusetts Constitution and applies to all Massachusetts elections. These regulations, entitled “Polling Place Accessibility for Elderly and Handicapped Voters,” are promulgated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division, the agency that oversees elections and voting. Notably, our Massachusetts regulations in some instances exceed the federal requirements for voting and elections.

Other laws include The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (VAEHA), The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), each of these laws contains provisions relevant to the voting rights of people with disabilities.

Citizens of the Commonwealth have long held voting and elections in very high esteem.  The constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which became effective in 1780, is the oldest functioning constitution in continuous effect in the world.  Article IX states;

All elections ought to be free; and all the inhabitants of this commonwealth, having such qualifications as they shall establish by their frame of government, have an equal right to elect officers, and to be elected, for public employments.”

The act of voting is a fundamental right of every citizen and I encourage people of all abilities to take part in our electoral process this season.

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