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Resources available to voters with disabilities

'Special needs' voters can fill out ballots at home

Posted: November 4, 2012 - 6:34pm  |  Updated: November 5, 2012 - 1:01am

Election Day is right around the corner, and the “I Vote, I Count” campaign is working to get out the vote among Alaskans with disabilities.

The Alaska Division of Elections website offers resources for disabled voters (http://1.usa.gov/PMo9Zk), including alternative options for voting.

Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said Friday that voters who are unable to make it to the polls can cast a “special needs” ballot.

“They can have someone go and get a ballot for it and bring it to them,” said Fenumiai.

Ann Applegate, staff attorney at the Disability Law Center of Alaska — one of the partners in the “I Vote, I Count” coalition — said the special needs ballot has “a portion that the representative fills out and also a portion that the voter fills out and submits back with the ballot at the polling place.”

Applegate said, “Essentially, the representative can drive to the polling place, pick up the special needs packet, bring it back to the home or to the hospital bed of the person who is ill or experiencing disability, they fill out the form, they mark their ballot, then the representative can then return that to the polling place.”

Voters casting special needs ballots need not worry that their ballot’s eligibility is in question simply based on how it was cast, as it is not considered a provisional ballot, according to Applegate.

“It’s not a provisional ballot,” said Applegate. “It is a full-fledged ballot at that point.”

For voters with disabilities who need to get to the polls but may not be able to rely on a friend or relative to drive them there, Juneau has transportation options, such as Capital Transit and Care-A-Van Transportation, both of which will be running on Election Day.

Care-A-Van serves as the complimentary paratransit service for Capital Transit and is approved by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Travelers with ADA cards are given priority service. Those wishing to arrange a ride can contact Care-A-Van at 463-6194.

Vouchers are also available to people with disabilities or age 60 or older for discounted taxicab service with Juneau Taxi and Tours. Vouchers are available through Southeast Alaska Independent Living’s Juneau office at 3225 Hospital Drive, Suite 300, or by calling 586-4920 with a teletype phone.

Voters with disabilities who are accompanied to their polling place by a friend or relative can receive assistance from that companion even inside the voting booth, according to David Fleurant, executive director of the Disability Law Center.

“If they need to bring someone with them and help them vote, they can take a family member or some other aide into the polling booth with them to help them vote,” Fleurant said.

There are other features at polling places designed to help voters with disabilities.

Touch-screen voting machines with audio and font enlargement options can assist visually impaired voters, Fenumiai said.

Voting booths optimized for voters in wheelchairs are also available, as are ramps to aid access in and out of the polling station.

“We do have one handicapped-accessible booth, which is a little bit lower for anyone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Fenumiai. “We also have ballot magnifiers available.”

If a disabled voter encounters problems while attempting to vote, Fleurant said there are telephone numbers they can call for help.

“They can certainly call our number,” said Fleurant. “1-800-478-1234.”

Fleurant also urged voters to call the United States Department of Justice if they believe their right to vote is being infringed.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., is accessible by phone at 1-800-253-2931 or (202) 307-2767 (http://bit.ly/WhhR6p).

Fenumiai said she is encouraging all registered Alaskan voters to vote.

Election Day is Tuesday. Voters around the country will be electing a president and vice president. In Alaska, U.S. Rep. Don Young of the Republican Party is also running for reelection against Democratic state Rep. Sharon Cissna, who represents part of downtown Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives.

The “I Vote, I Count” coalition describes itself on its website (http://bit.ly/Pswn7h) as an “informal coalition of individuals, provider organizations, advocacy groups, and interested allies.” Its members include the AARP, University of Alaska Anchorage Center for Human Development, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and several others, in addition to the Disability Law Center.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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