A Look At Voting Accessibility In Utah, Areas Of Improvement

Oct 28, 2020

 

Voting Sticker

Utahns are already casting their ballots but people with disabilities are facing challenges casting their vote. 

Lou McKee, who was diagnosed three years ago on the autism spectrum, discussed some of these barriers. McKee said crowded polling places are difficult for her.

“I've had to just learn to tolerate being in places where there's a large gathering of people," McKee said.

McKee said it’d help if polling stations were designed to accommodate those who are overwhelmed with too much sensory input. 

 

“I really do believe that every single public school should be made into a polling station," McKee said.

The voting by mail system now used in Utah makes this easier, however increasing polling locations wouldn’t help people like Sachin Pavithran, who’s blind.  He said polling places are required to have devices for blind people, but in his experience they don’t always work. When he votes by mail he has had to rely on family members. That means people who live alone may have to rely on neighbors, with different political beliefs.

“I have had to depend on someone to help me mark the ballot that came in the mail. And hopefully it was marked right," Pavithran said.

This year even more challenges have been put in place.  With polling stations closed due to the pandemic, people who are disabled need to call their county clerk to schedule an appointment if they want to vote using a machine. 

Pavithran is the policy director at the Utah State Univesrity Center for Person's with Disabilities. He’s encouraged Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox to implement a pilot program for online voting. Pavithran said Utah County has been allowing online voting since 2018 which he wants extended to the whole state. 

 “It's been very successful, And they're doing it this year, and, you know, open doors for more people to vote who need that. And, you know, in the current pandemic," Pavithran said.

For those who are nervous about security, Pavithran said this:

“Why are these people challenging and putting barriers that don't exist for any other systems out there, like financial, medical, health care, everything is on electronics, why does that have a whole different level of scrutiny versus voting that you know?"

Another way to increase voter turnout is providing accessible transportation. The National Federation of the Blind has partnered with Lyft nationally to give free rides to polling stations.