Hawaiʻi Disability Rights Center Provides Voting Assistance for People with Disabilities

October 29, 2020, 4:48 PM HST · Updated October 29, 4:48 PM
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Hawaiʻi Disabilities Right Center provides voting assistance to people with disabilities.

The Hawaiʻi Disability Rights Center (HDRC) helps residents with disabilities exercise their protected right to vote. The center’s attorneys and advocates work to ensure that provisions in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 are followed as they relate to people with disabilities.

To successfully navigate Hawaiʻi’s first all-mail general election, the center recommends voters get familiar with the new process and vote early in case problems arise. The center also will provide free and confidential assistance if needed.

For the first time in state history, people with disabilities or special needs are qualified to request
an electronic “Alternate Format Ballot,” which is emailed as a HTML file.

Signed ballots can be dropped off at accessible official drop boxes or Voting Service Centers. The Voting Service Centers also offer same-day registration and in-person voting. Signed ballots also can be faxed or scanned and then emailed to the State Office of Elections.

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Voter Service Centers 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.

According to research conducted in 2018 by Hawaiʻi Pacific Health and Pali Momi Medical Center, a 10th 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 and self-direction, the figure increases to near 15 percent, according to the US Census Bureau. It is large enough of a 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” HDRC’s executive director Louis Erteschik said. “We’d like to stress that the Hawaiʻi 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.”

Erteschik encourages people with a disability to make their vote count: “This year’s electoral process is significantly different, but it’s not too late to participate.”

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 also is available for voters.

Historically, voters with disabilities have faced obstacles that hinder civic participation. These issues may be further exacerbated by COVID-19 measures in place due to limited mobility; difficulty grasping or practicing preventative measures and communications. Anyone with a disability who encounters an accessibility problem, including untrained workers to assist them or lack of a working electronic voting machine, can call HDRC.

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.

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