New GAO Report on Voting Accessibility

By Renee Dopplick, ACM Director of Public Policy
April 29, 2013

Almost all polling places had an accessible voting system during the 2008 elections, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). That’s the good news.

The bad news: At nearly half of the polling places with an accessible voting system, voters with disabilities still faced barriers to voting independently and privately. For example, some accessible voting systems were set up at voting stations inaccessible to wheelchairs; others lacked headsets for blind and visually impaired voters to hear the audio; and some accessible voting systems were on site but not placed into use.

The voting accessibility problems identified by the GAO seem more logistical than insurmountable and could be addressed through improved physical access. The next big question for accessible voting is whether the technology being put into service to make voting accessible to all eligible voters is actually effective at allowing citizens to cast their ballots privately and independently.

A few highlights from the GAO Report on “Challenges to Voting Accessibility”:

  • Accessibility improved since 2000.
  • The majority of potential impediments at polling places in 2008 occurred outside of or at the building entrance.
  • 43 states reported setting accessibility standards for voters with disabilities; compared to 23 states in 2000.
  • 31 states reported that ensuring polling place accessibility was very or moderately challenging.

Accessible voting systems

  • All but one polling place had an accessible voting system. The researchers did not assess legal compliance with accessible voting system requirements under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
  • 46% of those accessible voting systems had potential impediments. The researchers looked at four factors:
    • 29% of accessible voting systems did not accommodate people using wheelchairs.
    • 23% did not provide the same level of privacy.
    • 6% lacked earphones for audio functions.
    • 5% were not set up or powered on.

Accommodations for voters with disabilities

  • 23 states reported requiring polling places to provide other accommodations for voters with disabilities, such as curbside voting, down from 28 in 2000.
  • Types of accommodations that states required local jurisdictions to provide [Note: This is given in figure 4, which is not accessible in the pdf version of the Report.]
    • Curbside voting (23 states)
    • Magnifying instruments (12 states)
    • Larger type ballots (11 states)
    • Ballot taken to residence / long-term care facilities (9 states)
    • Braille ballots (6 states)

The full text of the GAO Report on “Challenges to Voting Accessibility” is available at:


Interested in participating in policy discussions about accessible voting? Here are two opportunities:

  • National Council on Disability – Request for Written Testimony
    Deadline: May 7, 2013
    The National Council on Disability (NCD) is accepting additional written testimony, following its Congressional Policy Forum last Tuesday on “The Help America Vote Act Ten Years Later: Has the Law Accomplished Its Aim?” The feedback will be used to help inform NCD for its forthcoming policy report on voting access.
  • U.S. Election Assistance Commission Roundtable
    May 9, 2013, noon-5:30 pm EDT
    Next Thursday, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will hold a roundtable on “EAC Grant Funding: Accessibility Research, Election Administration and Voting Systems” to discuss the results of grant-funded work on accessible voting systems and the implications for future elections. A live webcast will be available.