What is accessible voting by mail?
Accessible vote by mail – also called remote accessible voting – includes delivering the ballot to a voter by email or a secure portal. Voters mark their ballot with their own computer, using their own assistive technology to do so.Ballots are then returned on the same deadline as other vote-by-mail ballots.
- In all states with AVBM, ballots can be returned by mail or dropping it off at an official location.
- In states with electronic ballot return, you can return your ballots by email or fax, or upload the marked ballot to a secure portal, so no paper is required.
Every voter in the U.S. has the right to vote privately and independently. Just like the accessible voting systems required for in-person voting, new systems and procedures make voting from home accessible for voters with disabilities.
If you plan to use an AVBM system to vote by mail, check the procedures in your state carefully. You may have to request an accessible ballot from your local election office or through a state-wide form. Make sure to check the rules for how to return your ballot and what forms you need to complete and send back to the elections office with your marked ballot.
When did accessible voting by mail start?
Oregon pioneered vote-by-mail ballots as the first state to send them to all voters in 2000. It was also the first state to provide accessible voting by mail in 2008, a local company in Oregon called Five Cedars learned about the challenges of mail voting from a neighbor with a disability and was motivated to find solutions. Five Cedars went on to create Oregon's vote-by-mail system, called the Alternative Ballot. Since then, several vendors have followed by supplying systems — and some states have created their own.
This way of voting is new, so there is a lot of variation in how and where it is offered. Today, 34 states offer some form of accessible voting by mail (AVBM). Ten of them allow some form of electronic ballot return. Advocacy by disability rights organizations continue to support adoption in more states and cities.
You can find details about accessible remote voting on the page for your state.
Why accessible vote by mail matters
Accessible vote by mail enables voters with disabilities to vote independently and privately – a right for all voters – often for the first time. For many voters with disabilities, the ability to vote at home with the help of assistive technology and extra time to understand the ballot is the difference between being able to cast a ballot and being prevented from doing so.
Accessible vote by mail increases voter turnout and helps close the gap between voters with and without disabilities. Since these practices have been implemented, the turnout gap is getting smaller.
Researchers Lisa Shure and Doug Kruse have tracked voting by people with disabilities for many years. In 2020, they reported the good news that turnout for voters with disabilities increased more than the average for all voters. However,a stubborn 5.7% gap still remains. Accessible vote by mail can help close that gap.
Challenges for accessible vote by mail, and tips to address them
Despite laws to ensure all voters can cast a ballot independently and privately, the voting process is not perfect. Paper ballots and signature requirements are two recurring barriers that prevent voters with disabilities from being able to vote or from having their vote counted.
People who cannot read or handle paper because of a visual, physical or cognitive learning disability are not able to vote independently. For example, a blind voter cannot check a printed ballot to be sure it is marked the way they intended. Or a voter who cannot handle paper would need assistance to put their ballot and other forms into an envelope to return it.
Electronic ballot return solves these problems for voters with print disabilities.
Signature requirements are another hurdle for voters with disabilities for many reasons. Visual and dexterity disabilities can make signatures inconsistent. Voters who cannot sign their names consistently tend to have their mail ballots rejected at higher rates than other voters. Not knowing where to place a signature on the voter’s statement or envelope can lead to a rejected vote.
Here are some tips to make sure an issue with your signature doesn’t keep your vote from being counted:
- Be sure you know how to find the location for your signature.
- Ask if you can use an alternative signature, such as stamps or other marks.
- Ask if you can use a digital signature.
- Ask your local election office about how they validate your signature and if you can correct it.