With tensions running high and party lines drawn in the sand, many wish for the old days when legislators could debate, compromise and serve all Texans. Such bipartisanship is critically needed as we work to find a path forward on election reform.
The common theme of the regular session was a need to restore trust and integrity in our elections. For voters with disabilities, though, Texas is still falling short on its potential to lead when it comes to running secure elections while also protecting every Texan's sacred right to vote.
According to the U. S. Department of Justice, people with disabilities make up approximately one out of six voting-age adults. Yet the voter turnout rate in 2020 by people with disabilities was 4 percent lower than that of people without disabilities.
Texans with disabilities deserve the same protections and voting access that other Texans have — even if the way we cast our ballots might look a little different.
That’s why CTD works with state leaders every legislative session to elevate the concerns of the disability community and drive consensus around policy that ensures the millions of Texans living with disabilities can make their voices heard in our democracy.
Every Texan with a disability should have the ability to cast a secure and private ballot, as independently as possible, whether on an accessible voting machine at a polling location or through a mail-in ballot in their own home.
State lawmakers should create processes that ensure voters with disabilities can exercise their constitutional right to vote independently, privately and in the security of their own homes if they cannot access their local polling places.
If the goal is to increase integrity and trust in our elections, ballot curing — correcting ballots with mistakes rather than throwing them out — and accessible mail-in ballots are two essential reform elements. We hope Texas lawmakers advance such reforms.
Allowing voters to cure mail-in ballots that would otherwise be disqualified through signature verification or because of simple clerical errors, rather than waiting until after an election to notify voters their ballots were thrown out, is a commonsense reform that already exists in many states, including conservative ones like Florida, Ohio and Kentucky.
Ballot cure was stripped out of the Texas elections bill during the regular session, despite having overwhelming bipartisan support. We applaud state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, for his amendment during the Senate floor debate to ensure SB 1 included a more robust, remote cure process through the Secretary of State's website — a positive reform for all voters, especially those with disabilities and military personnel serving overseas or away from home. Sens. Bryan Hughes and Judith Zaffirini also played an important, bipartisan role in advancing ballot cure.
There are several other practical, reasonable accommodations that any voting bill passed during this special session should include. Making mail-in ballots accessible to voters with blindness through ADA-compliant mail-in ballots is an accommodation we already provide to overseas active military personnel and should be available to in-state voters with disabilities.
Many in the disability community, especially those with limited arm function or hand dexterity, use a signature stamp to sign all of their documents legally, and this is how they sign their voter registration forms. Changes to the statute must acknowledge this widely accepted practice.
The Texas Secretary of State implemented voter training and technical assistance in the early 2000s under the ground-breaking Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Texas should revive this practice for Texans with disabilities. Texas should develop and implement procedures and technologies for truly accessible vote-by-mail ballots, acceptance of signature stamps and voter education that will allow all voters to cast private, independent and secure ballots without assistance.
Both election integrity and improved voter access are essential — and, importantly, these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Texas has long provided vital accommodations for voters with disabilities, including accessible voting machines and secure curbside voting, and we should continue to do so.
Election measures lose any semblance of integrity when they interfere with the reasonable, necessary and legally protected accommodations for voters with disabilities that are already in place.
Texas should leave untouched the functioning legal accommodations and practices that protect access to the ballot for voters with disabilities — and strengthen this proud tradition by including a timely, remote cure opportunity for mail-in-ballots and creating accessible mail-in ballots for Texans with visual impairments.
The disability community is proud to have allies who cross partisan lines. Let's take this opportunity to bring all stakeholders to the table and do something truly transformational. Let’s work together to make voting easier, more accessible and secure for all.
The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities is Texas’s largest and oldest member-driven cross-disability advocacy and policy organization.