Open Thread: Election Day in the USA!

Here in the US, the long-awaited midterm elections have arrived at last. As I think readers know, I take voting pretty seriously and adore voting, even though there are some pretty stark problems with the political process in the United States.

Vote By Mail Ballot Envelope: The back of my unsealed ballot envelope, warning the reader that voting twice 'is a crime.' An 'I voted early' sticker is propped up on the flap.

This open thread is for people to talk about their voting experiences (you don’t have to be USian to participate, and you don’t just have to talk about the current midterm elections!) and, most importantly, I would really like to hear from people who encountered accessibility issues at the polls in regards to this election.

If you couldn’t access your polling place, spotted problems with accessibility, had trouble getting an absentee ballot, etc., please let us know. As I mentioned recently, California voters can report problems with the polls to Disability Rights California, but I didn’t see similar systems in place in other states, let alone on a national level (if you know of any, please drop information in comments). I’ll be compiling the reports we receive and forwarding them on to the appropriate parties.

Disenfranchisement of disabled voters happens on a de facto level all the time and I’d like to start highlighting individual cases to illustrate how systemic and widespread this is.

Now, if you’re eligible to vote and you haven’t done it yet, get thee to the polls!

ETA: I can’t believe I left this out! *headdesk* If you experience/witness problems at the polls, you should immediately contact a poll worker and ask to speak to the precinct supervisor to report it. Document as much as you can, if you are able. Also contact Election Protection, a nationwide nonpartisan organization. You can also report problems with the polls to your Secretary of State as well as political organizations, and if you are registered with a party, contact the local office to tell them what happened.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

19 thoughts on “Open Thread: Election Day in the USA!

  1. The first election I was old enough to vote in was in 2004, Bush vs. Kerry. I’ve always been lucky to have been able to get permanent mail-in ballots, and my (current) polling place is just a quick walk which I am able to do, so I don’t have to worry about public transit failing or anything like that.

    Anyway, I was in college (out-of-state) in 2004, but stayed registered in my home state. A little while before the election, somebody came to the door of my parents’ house and asked my father if she could speak to me. When he said I was in college, she asked him how I was voting. When he said “I don’t know, and even if I did that’s not for me to tell you,” she actually asked him “you mean, you don’t tell her how to vote?”

  2. I don’t have a lot of time before I go out to the polls (where, not being physically disabled, I don’t expect any problems) but I wanted to highlight something that happened yesterday.

    I’m a Neighborhood Team Leader with Organizing for America (sorta the grandchild of the Obama Campaign and the DNC), and we’ve been working on Get Out the Vote for weeks now. That means we’re running phone banks and canvassing into targeted areas. Yesterday, out of my staging area, we ran four canvasses. When the first group came back, they reported that they ran into a man in a wheelchair who said he got turned away when he tried to early vote. They took down his name and phone number and my organizer passed it up to our city-level Director–that sort of thing isn’t really within my jurisdiction, nor have I had a chance to talk with her, so I’m not sure what happened to it.

    Then, on the third canvas (which I went out on) one of the houses on my partner’s list was a man in a wheelchair who didn’t plan on voting because he didn’t expect his polling place to be accessible–apparently this had happened to him before. She took down his information and we passed it up to the same place–again, this was yesterday evening, so I don’t know anything about it.

    That’s two people out of four canvas shifts, one who came up and approached us and one who was on our list. Kind of a crappy record.

  3. So, I figured out this morning that while I had, in my brain, submitted my voter registration for my new address when I moved, I apparently have not. And there is no way in hell that I would be able to make it to my old polling place. It’s not really that far but I am basically trapped on campus all day.
    Commence me feeling super guilty. Thanks, brain.

  4. Voting is complicaaated. I’ve got dual nationality, US and German, and am studying in Britain so I can technically vote for various things in three different countries (I think? place of residence complicates the matter) but it means I have to figure out what elections I can vote in and what I can’t and where, when and how to apply for mail voting since usually I’m in a different country from the one I’m voting in and all of this is really, really not easy for someone with executive dysfunction. E.g. I have no idea if I could have voted in these… midterms? I don’t even know what they are, as an overseas US citizen, but since I only discovered they existed a few days ago it was hopeless. I also didn’t manage to vote in the last US presidential election because I just didn’t know how to get a ballot sent to me, didn’t know where to find out and the election came around during an extremely busy part of my life – I sent an e-mail to a place I thought could probably help me but never got a reply and then gave up on it. (Discovered later that because of loads of new people registering these places were mostly so swamped they didn’t respond to e-mail at all. Gee, thanks.) Most of the time when I manage to vote it’s in Germany thanks to my mum sending me documents and telling me what I have to do.

    Which is to say, in terms of access for people with this kind of disability I think there could be some real improvement. 🙁

  5. For all of my town’s horrible accessibility issues, my place wasn’t *too* bad. The accessibility (mobility and wheelchair-wise) was decent in a roundabout way. There were door-openers, a curb cut, and a grand whole TWO disabled parking spots(out of about maybe forty to fifty), that was placed on the further side from the polling section, without signage to say where to go. But there were no stairs, and it was possible to get into the place. There was one wheelchair accessible ‘fill-out’ space, but it looked really rickety (and that was compared to the rickety ‘regular’ spaces, and it was even less private than the rest of the spots. The whole experience was extremely NOT private, fill in the bubble sheet, no curtains, and then hand to someone who handled it with you right there. Which, the absence of the curtains was actually really great because the giant machines and going behind the curtains had never been good for my claustrophobia. But the rickety stand-up places, were not good for leaning against, and there were no chairs to sit on while filling out the ballots, only for waiting.

    The typing on the ballot sheets was ridiculously small, and I’m not sure what they did for people who had low vision issues or anything like that. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad, (considering this was the same place that makes me go up stairs to get a disability placard), and it was sort of accessible in that wonderful government way of skirting the rules.

  6. I’m currently able-bodied, but I looked for and noticed a few accessibility issues at my polling place. First, the location was in the back of a book store. Someone who uses a wheelchair or a larger power chair would not have been able to fit through the store to reach the small space in the back where the booths were located. Second, even if you were able to get to the location of the booths, they were arranged in such a way that I had to squeeze through a small space to access them. Someone who uses a wheelchair or a mobility device or who is just unstable on zir feet is looking at inaccessibility or a fall risk. Third, we have a really long ballot because in Illinois, we vote to retain judges, and there was no seating available in the voting booths. There was one lower booth, presumably for the person who uses a wheelchair (if zie could magically manage to get to the booth), but it did not have a chair. It takes about ten minutes to complete the ballot, which is going to make voting inaccessible for a lot of people. Fourth, the store only offers street parking, so there is no disability accessible parking.

    It was all very disheartening, especially because funding for disability services is a major issue in our gubernatorial election.

  7. I voted today, at a small church in Indianapolis. The handicapped parking spots had been allowed to fade and church personnel signs were there instead. The curb cuts and sidewalk were broken up and hard to navigate in a wheelchair. The handicapped access was through a side door which was locked (!!!) and my husband had to go in, through, and unlock it from the other side, and there was no voting booth for those that did not stand. *sigh* I have voted here several elections, and it has always been the same. Going to call Election Protection right after I finish this. Wish me luck!

  8. I use a powerchair and a communication device, and have serious trouble using the phone. All of which came into play today.

    I went out with four bars worth of power on my powerchair, then suddenly it conked out in the middle of a road and said the battery was dead. (My battery is old and it was cold outside.) I managed with other people’s help to coax it another block, and then I didn’t dare get out in the middle of the road again. So I got out my cell phone, typed a message into my communication device, and called my neighbor to come and help me call a taxi. (Taxi services in general are not compatible with my communication device on the phone, at all.)

    So she came out. Her phone was dead. My phone went dead. I was a block from my polling place. She went to the polling place and they called the local paratransit service, which I would’ve never thought of, but I guess they were running people to and from the polling place that day anyway. The people at the polling place got a really incompetent dispatch guy on the phone and weren’t at all sure that he’d do the right thing. So my friend came back to me, and we waited until someone was walking by who had a cell phone (lots of people fortunately walking to and from the polling place). We borrowed the cell phone, she called my case manager to let her know that my aide might not find me at home, and we called a taxi just in case, but as she was on the phone with the taxi service the paratransit van pulled up.

    Much interesting stuff ensued. Basically, the people in the van didn’t think I was able to communicate at all, and didn’t seem to want to listen to or look at my communication device. They proceeded to put my chair in neutral and get me onto the van with a lot of heaving and pushing and precarious stuff. Then they strapped me in sideways, which is against the rules but they didn’t want to try to parallel park me in the van by pushing me. Then they took me to the polling place. Where my friend ran off and got the election people, and brought them inside the van to watch me vote. They seemed to think I couldn’t read, and it took me a little while to disabuse them of that idea. Then they all started chattering which made it nearly impossible to vote (although I managed in the end, but it’s like trying to count while people are shouting numbers at you, only worse). Especially while they complained about how many ambulatory voters (well, they said something like nondisabled, but of course most disabled people are ambulatory) they might be holding up to let me vote. At one point I tried to answer one of their questions about me and they told me to stop typing and keep voting because this was taking too much time already.

    They also mentioned something about today being a record number of wheelchair users in years. Three. There’s a reason for this. The polling place is supposedly wheelchair accessible. But it’s up a steep road with potholes and giant cracks and stuff. Very few manual chair users would be able to get up it without help, and many powerchair users would find it utterly impossible. And the building then usually doesn’t label the wheelchair entrance. And the wheelchair entrance itself can be only marginally accessible depending on your chair and your particular set of abilities.

    So then they drove me home and shoved me into the elevator and once I was back indoors in the warm air I had enough power in my chair to get to my apartment. I’ve probably left stuff out of this but my brain is balking at recalling more details and translating them into language. Safe to say I am very grateful that the paratransit people rescued me from being stuck on a cold street corner all night, but the whole thing left a lot to be desired. And I need to order a new battery, I wasn’t ever told how often I have to replace them so I didn’t understand why it was not functioning as well lately.
    Amanda´s last blog post ..Involuntary non-movements

  9. My day was really upbeat. Where I worked in the AM, I insisted we test the MarkSense (pictured in my previous) Accessible Ballot Marking Device. As the trainer had feared, it didn’t operate. Our chief contacted someone from the City Clerk’s office, who tapped it, thumped it, and sent some test ballots through a few times and it worked (although glacially slowly). At that point I gave an impromptu training to all the poll workers: here’s why we have a machine, it can substitute for the eye to hand system or the brain to hand system. Here are the sort of things the machine can enable. If someone wants to use the machine, don’t be a gatekeeper. My fellow poll workers seemed eager to know more!

    When I finished my shift I went back to my home to cast my own ballot, and used the MarkSense there. It operated fine; the design and function of the large print output, however, is abysmal. It comes in one large print size, around 18 points. Although it’s a full color display, its warnings are shown with black & white flashing, so rapid as to induce migraine (or perhaps a seizure, that was some nasty brightness). So I closed my eyes and used the audio interface.

    No access problems at either polling place (although the student ward where I worked has a very high level of ambient sound, which I would never tolerate for more than a couple hours).

  10. Just an update to my earlier comment… I voted, and to my untrained physically-abled eye it seemed accessible. I didn’t have anymore current reports, that I knew of, of people being turned away from the polls but I don’t work in that area.

    After my fourth canvas, I was having a meal with a pair of volunteers, one of whom was the one who spoke to the man who didn’t think his polling place would be accessible yesterday. I initiated a conversation about disabled access and brought up yesterday. The second volunteer mentioned that her neighbor is disabled, and last year she happened to run into him at the polls. Usually he does a ballot by mail, but last year he never received his so had to go in. He has mobility and vision issues.

    He was turned away. The precinct judge told him he did a ballot by mail and would not be allowed to vote “again,” even after she explained. He was going to leave but said volunteer stopped him and told the precinct judge that he had options, he could fill out a provisional ballot, to which the PJ agreed. She also reported him, and apparently this year he’s not a precinct judge, which is great, but given the sheer amount of anecdotes I got about this, in 2 days, from physically able people, it makes me think this is really widespread in Houston.

  11. I voted a couple hours ago. My polling place had rickety-looking polling station thingies that appeared to have folded out of briefcasey things. (I’m so descriptive.) I don’t know if they were actually wobbly or anything, because all I did was hand them my early ballot that I’d taken too long researching options to mail in. One of them was lower and wider (and blue), presumably for a wheelchair. My brain has decided to be weird and I can’t remember if there was a step to the door or just to the door next to it. I think there wasn’t a step, but I’m not positive. It was definitely a flat go in from the parking lot to the door. I don’t know if there were any disabled spaces or not – it was a tiny neighborhood clubhouse thing. No chairs except the ones the workers were sitting in, not even for people waiting. There weren’t any lines, so I guess logic goes it wouldn’t matter, but I went with my parents and my mum had to do special things because she lost her early ballot, and then she spoiled her ballot and had to do it over and took ages and dad and I were left waiting. (There was a ping pong table outside, so we played that. For like half an hour.)

  12. As I read some of the problems that folks have faced while voting I feel very lucky to live in a state (Oregon) that has a 100% vote-by-mail system. Paper ballots are sent out by mail, approx. 2 weeks before the election, to every registered voter. There’s also a voter’s pamphlet that is sent out with information on all the candidates, ballot measures, and so on. Then the voter can mark up the ballot at their leisure, sign it, and then either put the ballot in the mail (which costs a stamp) or drop it off in person. The state of Washington has a similar system but they allow the ballot to be postmarked by election day while Oregon says the ballot must arrive by election day (postmarks don’t count).

    Again, I feel very lucky that I never worry about accessibility issues, broken machines, long lines, bad weather, being too sick on election day, transportation to the polling place, and so on. And no exit polls (which I find extremely annoying) because you vote in the privacy of your own home.

    I know many (most?) states have early voting, absentee ballots, and so on. But I still can’t understand why more states don’t have this system, especially in these days of tight budgets (it costs less to do it this way than to staff polling places). Would more people want 100% vote-by-mail if they knew it existed? Or is there some sort of downside to it that I’m not seeing?

  13. ahimsa: The most obvious downside that springs to mind for me is controlling “heads of household” who decide that they are going to vote for everyone. I realise that control can bleed over to within the ballot box also, but at least there is some chance of a person voting other than the way their abuser wants them to in a private polling-place poll.

    I like having a choice. Voting is a community ritual I feel very attached to. This year I rolled down the local streets to our polling place with three or four generations of my extended family (some were voting absentee, which can be done anywhere in our State without any pre-arrangement), and we all had our say in the running of our country in the company of our neighbours and local poll workers and how-to-vote workers. The booth had accessibility limitations, but I think a couple of people may have paused and learned something when they saw me wrestling with them.

    My kid is also learning a lot about our political system, how it works, and why it’s important by coming along and observing the polling process.

    I could vote postal, with my disability, but I don’t want to, and I would rather they put the effort into making polling accessible than fobbing me off with a postal vote when everyone else gets to vote as a community.

    Then there’s the issue of people with no fixed address. The Australian system goes to at least some effort to accommodate such people, and I can’t find anything in the FAQ or enrolment form that says one must nominate an address at which one can receive mail. NFA voters can choose to enrol in the electorate in which they last lived, the electorate of a next-of-kin, the electorate in which they were born, or if born outside Australia, the electorate to which they feel the most connection. How does that work in American states with 100% postal voting?

  14. There are some polling places in Oregon that are open on election day for those who want to vote in person. I think they are used mostly by folks who made a mistake marking their ballot (or perhaps lost their ballot) and need a new one. But the polling places could be used by people who prefer to vote in person. So, there is still that choice available but with a lot fewer lines and traffic.

    Regarding folks with no fixed address (NFA), I think a bigger problem, at least in the USA, would be with voter registration not the actual voting process. Don’t folks in any state (in the USA) need a fixed address just to be able to register to vote? I am not well versed in all the details of voting so I could be wrong. I do wish that Oregon did not have such a long cutoff time for voter registration before election day (20 days?).

    I’m sorry that I’m not very familiar with details of voting in other countries. Thanks for letting me know about how the Australian system deals with NFA.

    For more details about vote-by-mail in Oregon (in case anyone is curious) here are some links.

    * general information:
    * info about accessibility:

  15. I’m signed up for permanent vote-by-mail, and I love it. I’m autistic and like being able to avoid the potential chaos and/or logistical hassles associated with polling places. On the other hand, though, I definitely don’t think disabled people (autistic or not) should HAVE to vote by mail in states where everyone is supposed to have a choice of how they want to vote. The stuff Amanda described re. the people in the van complaining about “holding up” nondisabled voters made my jaw literally drop. If polling places are going to physically exist they ought to be accessible.

    Incidentally, this year the ballot was so darned long that it took me ages to actually complete, meaning I wasn’t done in time to actually mail it. So I had to drop it off at the polling place. Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be an issue…the place was very close to my house and since I’d already filled it out I didn’t have to stand there with people talking and milling around, etc., trying to mark my answers. I just gave the envelope to some people at a table and left and that was it. Having read some of the crap other people experienced trying to vote I would definitely say I got off easy this year. :/

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