By Katherine Blakeslee
Do you have a plan to vote? Have you voted yet? One of the most important and powerful things you can do as a United States citizen is to vote. There are 3 ways you can vote: 1) Vote early by mail, 2) Vote early in person, and 3) Vote on Election Day.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Mary McCauley, Director of the Massachusetts Office of Disability (MOD) and Jeff Dougan, Assistant Director for Community Services at the MOD, regarding accessible voting. Our conversation kicked off with brief introductions followed by each of us searching for our polling locations to see if there had been any location changes due to COVID-19.
I wanted to know, what is being done to protect voters with disabilities and the continued expectations of compliance with the appropriate sections of 950 CMR that relate to the Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections (SEC) Division such as accessible locations and accessible voting machines (aside from the typical COVID-19 safety protocols being followed during the early voting period and on Election Day)? Jeff was quick to highlight that Secretary of State Galvin has done a tremendous amount for persons for disabilities, especially with ensuring these voters have the same opportunity to vote privately and independently. It is required that every precinct must have at least one accessible voting machine available and at least one access marking unit in every polling place in Massachusetts.
However, we were concerned with so many relocation changes happening at once due the pandemic, will there still be a focus on accessibility in Massachusetts? Jeff reached out to SEC and the response was an “empathetic yes.” Furthermore, they explained that “As changes were coming in, we’ve been following up regarding accessibility. We are optimistic that the local election officials are being cognizant of the requirements when considering moving polling places.” Some additional guidance documents that can be found on the SEC website, specifically are: 1) Election Advisory #20-03 and 2) Election Advisory #20-05.
Mary attended Baystate Council of The Blind Fall Conference over the weekend and there was a session on accessible voting by mail (AVBM). The Disability Law Center website provides more information AVBM Program, which allows voters with disabilities who cannot effectively access the paper vote by mail system to submit a request for accommodation to the Accessible Vote by Mail (AVBM) Coordinator via email at AVBM@sec.state.ma.us or by phone at 617-727-2828.
My hope is that if you are reading this, you can find the information you need to make a plan to vote!