The federal General Accounting Office (GAO) recently gave testimony to the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging on the current accessibility of polling stations for the aging and disabled. Page 5 of the pdf manuscript (free Adobe Reader required):
The proportion of older people in the United States who may face challenges exercising the right to vote is growing. As of 2003, there were almost 36 million individuals aged 65 or older (12 percent of the population), and the majority have at least one chronic health condition. By 2030, those aged 65 and over will grow to more than 20 percent of the population. Disability increases with age, and studies have shown that with every 10 years after reaching the age of 65, the risk of losing mobility doubles.7 In many ways, lack of mobility and other types of impairments can diminish seniors' ability to vote without some assistance or accommodation. With increased age, seniors will become more limited in their ability to get to polling places by driving, walking, or using public transportation. Once seniors arrive at the polling places, they may face additional challenges, depending on the availability of accessible parking areas, accessibility of polling places, type and complexity of the voting equipment, availability of alternative voting methods (such as absentee voting), and the availability of voting assistance or aids.
Responsibility for holding elections and ensuring voter access primarily rests with state and local governments. Each state sets the requirements for conducting local, state, and federal elections within the state. For example, states regulate such aspects of elections as ballot access, absentee voting requirements, establishment of voting places, provision of election day workers, and counting and certifying the vote. The states, in turn have typically delegated responsibility for administering and funding state election systems to the thousands of local election jurisdictions—more than 10,000 nationwide—creating even more variability among our nation's election systems.
Although state and local governments are responsible for running elections, Congress has authority to affect the administration of elections. Federal laws have been enacted in several major areas of the voting process, including several that are designed to help ensure that voting is accessible for the elderly and people with disabilities. Most importantly, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (VAEHA), enacted in 1984, requires that political subdivisions responsible for conducting elections assure that all polling places for federal elections are accessible to elderly voters and voters with disabilities (with limited exceptions). Any elderly voter or voter with a disability assigned to an inaccessible polling place, upon his or her advance request, must be assigned to an accessible polling place or be provided with an alternative means for casting a ballot on the day of the election.
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