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U.S. Election Assistance Commission Releases Study on Disability and Voting Accessibility in the 2020 Elections

February 19, 2021
Source: U.S. Election Assistance Commission

Results show progress made but obstacles remain for voters with disabilities

Today [February 17, 2021], the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released the “Disability and Voting Accessibility in the 2020 Elections comprehensive national report. The EAC conducted this study to identify advancements and gaps in accessibility for voters with disabilities. The EAC commissioned Rutgers University to conduct the study. The EAC Commissioners and Professors Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse of the Rutgers Program for Disability Research discussed the findings on Wednesday during a public, virtual roundtable on accessibility lessons learned from the 2020 election.

The study focused on polling place access, mail and absentee voting accessibility, election administration challenges, COVID-19 obstacles, and community involvement. As the EAC plans for future elections, this data will be crucial in helping officials adopt new voting technologies and address the ever-growing accessibility needs of an aging demographic. The full report can be found here.

“In an election year with so many obstacles and unknowns, the improvement in accessibility for voters with disabilities is a testament to the hard work and dedication of election officials,” EAC Chairman Ben Hovland said. “We are proud of election officials’ accomplishments during an especially difficult election season. This study provides the EAC with indispensable feedback as we continue our work with election officials and accessibility experts to ensure all Americans can vote privately and independently.”

The EAC spearheaded the study under clearinghouse and research mandates outlined in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The goal of the study was to analyze the 2020 election experience for voters with disabilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Building on a similar 2012 study also conducted by the EAC in conjunction with Professors Schur and Kruse, the project launched immediately after the 2020 general election.

The 2020 study engaged 2,569 respondents including 1,782 voters with disabilities and 787 voters without disabilities. As in 2012, the oversampling of voters with disabilities was designed to produce a sample large enough for more accurate measurements and reliable breakdowns by demographic variables and type of disability.

Compared to 2012, overall results show election officials made great progress serving voters with disabilities and ensuring they could cast a private and independent ballot. Obstacles continue to exist, but improvements were evident.

Key findings from the “Disability and Voting Accessibility in the 2020 Elections” study are:

  • Voting difficulties among people with disabilities declined markedly from 2012 to 2020.
  • About one in nine voters with disabilities encountered difficulties voting in 2020. This is double the rate of people without disabilities, but a sizeable drop from 2012.
  • Among people with disabilities who voted in person, 18% reported difficulties, compared to 10% of people without disabilities. The disability figure is down from 30% in 2012.
  • During a general election that experienced a shift to mail and absentee voting, 5% of voters with disabilities had difficulties using a mail ballot, compared to 2% of voters without disabilities.
  • One in seven (14%) of voters with disabilities using a mail ballot needed assistance or encountered problems in voting, compared to only 3% of those without disabilities.
  • Five of six (83%) of voters with disabilities voted independently without any difficulty in 2020, compared to over nine of ten (92%) of voters without disabilities.
  • Voting difficulties were most common among people with vision and cognitive impairments.
  • Close to 75% of voters with disabilities voted with a mail ballot or early in-person in 2020. This represents a significant increase from 2012 and is higher than the two-thirds of non-disabled voters who did so in 2020.
  • People with disabilities voted at a 7% lower rate than people without disabilities of the same age, pointing toward a continuing disability gap in voter turnout.

Under HAVA directives, the EAC is tasked with maintaining a clearinghouse of election administration information. To fulfill this mission, the EAC provides best practices recommendations, training materials, and other resources for election officials. By enhancing our work with voters with disabilities and the election officials who serve them, we aim to improve accessibility and to ensure an independent and private vote for all.


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