During the state’s recent primary, Teri Saltzman said she took her time looking over her ballot at home in Pflugerville, Texas, using specialized glasses that magnified the small print.
However, even though Saltzman is legally blind, she missed the lines on the envelope flap where she was supposed to fill in identification numbers so election officials could count her vote.
“I’m still not sure if my vote was counted,” Saltzman, 59, said.
The addition of the lines was one of the election changes approved by Texas lawmakers last year – one of several states where advocates say new laws could have a disproportionate impact on disabled voters. They are concerned that stricter identification requirements, restrictions on voting by mail, a reduction in the number of drop boxes, and other changes will make local and midterm elections more difficult for people with disabilities.
“Voter suppression isn’t something we’re used to.” People with disabilities are frequently caught in the crosshairs,” said Michelle Bishop, the National Disability Rights Network’s voter access and engagement manager.
Concerns about the consequences of the new laws have arisen following a surge in voter turnout among disabled voters in the 2020 election. Election officials made it easier for people with disabilities to vote as they took steps to make the election safer during the pandemic.
According to researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, nearly 62 percent of eligible voters with disabilities cast ballots in the 2020 election, up from about 56 percent in 2016. In total, 17.7 million people with disabilities cast ballots in the 2020 election.
According to the Rutgers study, the percentage of people with disabilities who reported having difficulty voting decreased from 26.1 percent in 2012 to 11.4 percent in 2020. It fell from 7.4 percent to 6.4 percent among voters who did not have a disability.
However, proponents believe that the gains will be short-lived. In response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a rigged 2020 presidential election, several states enacted new voting restrictions.
Conservative lawmakers, according to opponents of the laws, want to make it more difficult for people of color and other marginalized voters, who tend to vote Democratic, to vote after Democrats unexpectedly won states like Georgia and Arizona.
Supporters of the new laws, on the other hand, claim that they protect voters from fraud and aim to restore trust in the electoral process.
“Those concerns are misplaced,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank.
Many of the laws, he said, such as those requiring more identification, resulted in higher voter turnout in states like Georgia and Indiana, in part because voters had more faith in the system. The barriers aren’t necessarily new, according to Lilian Aluri, the American Association of People with Disabilities’ REV UP voting campaign coordinator.
Following the 2020 presidential election, advocates claim that more states passed laws restricting access for voters with disabilities, such as curbside voting and voting by mail restrictions, early voting restrictions, ballot drop box limitations, and new identification requirements.
According to the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, new voting restrictions were enacted in 19 states in 2021 alone, including Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Singh cited a new Texas law that requires people who assist disabled voters to sign an oath limiting how much help they will provide, such as only reading the ballot or directing how to vote. According to Singh, the measure does not take into account a voter’s needs.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Brennan Center is challenging the law.
In Alaska, another proposal would have made it illegal to possess a ballot from someone who isn’t a family member. According to Singh, people who assist disabled voters aren’t always family.
Mail-in ballots have long been used by voters with disabilities and the elderly, particularly those living in nursing homes, according to Singh. This increased dramatically during the pandemic.