© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Language barriers, disabilities can make it hard to vote. What accommodations are available?

A blind woman uses a machine to assist her in voting.
Lisa Young
Elections officials say help is available for people with disabilities to make voting easier. They recommend contacting your county board of elections to understand what help is available.

Boards of elections across Northeast Ohio are gearing up for the election Tuesday. As part of that, officials are making plans to make sure those who have visual impairments, mobility challenges or speak languages other than English can exercise their right to vote.

A recent study showed that between 2012 and 2020 there was a substantial drop nationwide in the difficulties people with disabilities faced when voting. The study attributed that to the rise in voting by mail spurred by the pandemic. But in 2022, people returned to voting in polling places and the number of people with disabilities who reported struggling to vote ticked back up. Nearly one in seven voters with disabilities encountered difficulties voting in 2022 compared to less than one in 20 of their peers without disabilities, thestudy by Rutgers University showed.

Disabled voters can receive accommodations when heading to the polls on Tuesday. Each county has accommodations, but they differ.

Election workers in Portage County are trained to accommodate people, said Terrie Nielsen, the deputy director for the county board of elections.

“We train [poll workers] how to work with people with physical and mental accessibility issues in a kind manner,” Nielsen said. “It’s up to the voter what sort of assistance gets provided.”

During early voting, people with mobility issues can go to the Portage County Board of Elections on Meridian Street in Ravenna and then call the office from their car, Nielsen said. A worker will bring them an absentee ballot application to be filled out. That application can be filled out from the parking lot, and a poll worker will then bring them a ballot.

On Election Day, there is no application needed for people to vote curbside at their polling place, although a disabled person will have to bring a helper to notify poll workers that someone needs to vote from their car, Nielsen said. Once notified, a poll worker will bring a ballot to the vehicle.

In Stark County, poll workers set up a variety of accommodations for those with physical disabilities, said Regine Johnson, the deputy director of the Stark County Board of Elections.

Johnson said things like bumpy ground, the height of tables, accessible entrances and font sizes are all things that are taken into consideration to make sure the polls meet the standards set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are also designated curbside parking spots at every precinct for those who are unable to leave their car to vote.

“If the person needs ... accessibility equipment, they mention it when they check-in, and they are then set up on that particular machine,” Johnson said.

Those who speak a language other than English may also be able to get special help.

In Cuyahoga County, certain polling places are staffed with bilingual poll workers because they meet the required population thresholds, said Mike West, the manager of community outreach for the Cuyahoga Board of Elections.

“As soon as they reach a threshold of people that speak a foreign language — when that reaches 5% of the population — then accommodations are needed for people that speak languages other than English," West said.

Spanish is the only language that Cuyahoga County helps voters with. Summit County, Stark County, and Portage County do not meet the minimum population language-speaking requirement to offer ballots in other languages or to have bilingual poll workers present.

Pete Zeigler, the deputy director of the Summit County Board of Elections, said the few people in the community who need help reading their ballot because of a language barrier usually bring someone to help them translate.

More information about receiving these and other accommodations can be found in voter guides that are printed in English and Spanish and sent to voters' homes. Election officials said those who need accommodations can call the county board of elections or ask a poll worker on Tuesday.

Emma MacNiven is a senior journalism student at Kent State University.