Voters With Special Needs

Services Available to Voters with Special Needs in Texas

Voter Registration

  • People with disabilities have the right to register to vote so long as they are eligible, which means they:
    • Are citizens of the United States;
    • Are at least 17 years and 10 months old at time of registration (but to vote, they must be 18 years of age by Election Day);
    • Have not been finally convicted of a felony, or if they have been convicted, have completed all of their punishment, including any term of incarceration, parole, supervision, probation, or have received a pardon;
      • Note:  Deferred adjudication is not a final felony conviction.
    • Have not been determined by a final judgment of a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
  • Individuals who have legal guardians may be eligible to register, depending on whether the court took away their right to vote. All guardianship orders issued after September 1, 2007 must state whether the individual can vote.
  • People with disabilities can receive assistance registering to vote from any state agency that provides services to persons with disabilities or from any person they choose.

Accessible Voting Systems

  • On September 1, 1999, Texas became the first state to require that all new voting systems be accessible to voters with disabilities and provide a practical and effective means for voters with disabilities to cast a secret ballot.
  • In every federal election (and most nonfederal elections), each polling place will offer at least one type of accessible voting equipment or Direct Record Electronic (“DRE”) device. This equipment allows voters with disabilities to vote directly on the system or assist them in marking the paper ballot. Depending on the type of system, voters with disabilities may use headphones or other assistive devices to help them vote independently and secretly.
  • In certain nonfederal elections held in counties with a population of less than 20,000, accessible machines may not be available at every polling place.  To determine if accessible machines will be available or to request an accommodation, contact the early voting clerk of the county or political subdivision holding the election at least 21 days before the election.

All Polling Places in Texas Must be Accessible

Polling places should support voters, not hinder them. When you go to the polls in Texas, you can expect:

  • Your polling place will meet strict accessibility standards, including:
  • A location on the ground floor that can be entered from the street or via an elevator with doors that open at least 36 inches
  • Doors, entrances, and exits used to enter or leave the polling place that are at least 32 inches wide
  • Any curb next to the main entrance to the polling place must have curb-cuts or temporary non-slip ramps
  • Stairs necessary to enter or leave the polling place must have handrails on each side and a non-slip ramp.
  • Removal of all barriers such as gravel, automatically closing gates, closed doors without lever-type handles, or any other barrier that impedes the path of the physically disabled to the voting station.
  • Voting systems that are accessible to voters with physical disabilities and can accommodate no vision, low vision, no hearing, low hearing, limited manual dexterity, limited reach, limited strength, no mobility, low mobility, or any combination of the foregoing (except the combination of no hearing and no vision)
  • Each polling place will offer at least one type of accessible voting equipment or Direct Record Electronic (“DRE”) device. This equipment allows voters with disabilities to vote directly on the system or assist them in marking the paper ballot. Depending on the type of system, voters with disabilities may use headphones or other assistive devices to help them vote independently and secretly.

Voters May Receive Assistance at the Polls

Tell the election official if you are a voter who needs help to vote. You do not have to provide proof of your disability.  Voters are entitled to receive assistance if they:

  • Cannot read or write; or
  • Have a physical disability that prevents them from reading or marking the ballot.

Voters may be assisted by:

  • Any person the voter chooses who is not an election worker;
  • Two election workers on Election Day; or
  • One election worker during early voting.

Voters MAY NOT be assisted by:

  • Their employer;
  • An agent of their employer; or
  • An officer or agent of their union.

The person assisting the voter must read him or her the entire ballot, unless the voter asks to have only parts of the ballot read. The person assisting the voter must take an oath that he or she will not try to influence the voter’s vote and will mark the ballot as the voter directs. If the voter chooses to be assisted by polling place officials, poll watchers and election inspectors may observe the voting process, but if the voter asks to be assisted by a person the voter chooses, no one else may watch him or her vote.
It is illegal for a person assisting the voter to:

  • Try to influence the voter’s vote;
  • Mark the voter’s ballot in a way other than the way they have asked; or
  • Tell anyone how the voter voted.

Voters May Use Interpreters at the Polls

Voters who cannot speak English, or who communicate only with sign language, may use an interpreter to help them communicate with election officials. The voter may select any registered voter from his or her county to be their interpreter. If the voter cannot read the languages on the ballot, the interpreter may also assist by translating the language on the ballot for the voter in the voting booth. (See assistance section above for more details.) If the voter is deaf and does not have a sign language interpreter who can accompany them to help communicate with the poll worker or read the ballot, the voter should contact his or her local election officials before the election and request assistance.

Curbside Voting

If a voter is physically unable to enter the polling place, he or she may ask that an election officer bring a ballot to the entrance of the polling place or to a car at parked at the curbside. After the voter marks the ballot, they will give it to the election officer, who will put it in the ballot box. Or, at the voter’s request, a companion may hand the voter a ballot and deposit it for him or her.

TIP FOR VOTER WITH DISABILITY: If you plan to go alone to vote curbside, it is wise to call ahead so election officials will expect you. Generally speaking, you may vote curbside during the early voting period (the 17th day before Election Day until the 4th day before Election Day) or on Election Day. For a May uniform election date or resulting runoff election, the early voting period is the 12th day before Election Day until the 4th day before Election Day.

Voters May Vote Early, Either in Person or by Mail

Voters who vote during the early voting period may vote at any early voting site in the political subdivision that is holding the election. Alternatively, if a voter will be 65 years of age or older on Election Day, has a disability, or will be outside the county during early voting hours and on Election Day, the voter can apply to vote by mail. Simply submit a completed and signed Application for a Ballot by Mail any time from the 60th to the 9th day before Election Day to the proper county early voting clerk. Please note that for an election held on a Tuesday, the deadline moves to the 11th day before Election Day because the 9th day falls on a weekend. Applications for a Ballot by Mail may also be submitted in person at the main early voting polling location, as long as early voting by personal appearance is NOT taking place. For further information on voting early in person or by mail, including information on assistance in requesting, marking, or mailing a ballot by mail, please read our pamphlet titled “Early Voting in Texas.”  Get your application here.

For additional information, contact:

Secretary of State
Elections Division
P.O. Box 12060
Austin, Texas 78711-2060
512.463.5650 or 1.800.252.VOTE (8683)
Fax 512.475.2811, TTY 7.1.1

County Election Officials
For a list of county election officials, see the Secretary of State’s website

Disability Rights Texas
Voting Rights Project for Voters with Disabilities
7800 Shoal Creek Blvd., Suite 171-E
Austin, TX 78757-1024
1-888-796-VOTE (8683) (V/TTY)
Fax: 512-454-4816
http://www.disabilityrightstx.org/contact/

Coalition of Texans with Disabilities
316 W. 12th Street, Suite 405
Austin, Texas 78701
Phone: (512) 478-3366
Fax: (512) 478-3370
e-mail: cotwd@cotwd.org

Published by the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office. This pamphlet is available in Spanish, large print, audiotape, or computer disc upon request.

(Este folleto está disponible en Español, tipo de imprenta más grande, cinta magnética para audio, o disco para computadora. Para conseguir una de estas versiones por favor llame sin cargo a la oficina del Secretario de Estado al 1.800.252.VOTE (8683)).