by Asia Fields and Kengo Tsutsumi [This article first appeared in ProPublica, republished with permission]
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In response to ProPublica’s reporting on voting barriers, readers have reached out asking how they can help.
Our reporters found that voting is a modern-day literacy test in many ways for the 48 million Americans who have trouble reading. Voters must navigate confusing ballots and registration processes, as well as attempts by some states to make voting more difficult, such as by putting restrictions on the assistance people can recieve. Misinformation and false claims about voting fraud have exacerbated the issue.
“We’ve seen that voters who need language assistance or who are disabled and need assistance are challenged with the assumption that they are not eligible and as a result, their votes are not legitimate,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project.
There is no requirement that people be able to read or speak English in order to vote. The Voting Rights Act makes clear that people with disabilities and those who cannot read or write have the right to receive assistance casting a ballot.
Here are some ways you can help spread factual information about voting rights and resources ahead of the midterms.
Remember: Election Day is Nov. 8, and deadlines for voter registration and absentee ballot requests are quickly approaching in some states. Make sure to check the deadlines and procedures for your state.
Make sure your neighbors know about their rights and resources
We created an easy-to-read guide to voting that you can share with anyone who might find it useful. It’s available in multiple languages: English, Spanish, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Arabic, Korean, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. (You can also check what languages are commonly spoken by voting-age citizens in your area.)
You can find a printable version on our website, in case you’d like to distribute copies in your community. You can also request physical copies through the form below.
Our guide includes numbers for voter hotlines in multiple languages. People can call if they need help checking their registration, finding a polling place or learning about state requirements. The hotlines are also available if voters need information on language assistance or if they encounter any issues.
These hotlines are run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in conjunction with the NALEO Educational Fund, APIAVote and the Arab American Institute. All are nonpartisan, meaning they seek to provide voters with information about their rights rather than trying to get them to vote a certain way.
To contact the hotlines:
- English speakers can call or text 866-687-8683.
- Spanish speakers can call 888-839-8682 or text GOVOTE to 97779.
- Bangla, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog or Vietnamese speakers can call 888-274-8683.
- Arabic speakers can call 844-925-5287.
You can help people navigate the voting process
It can be challenging to navigate elections, as there are different processes depending on where you live. Fortunately, there are resources like this website run by the federal government that lists official sources of information about voting by state.
Vote.org, another nonpartisan organization, has simple tools you can use to help someone check their registration status and register to vote. They also have a tool voters can use to request an absentee ballot, find their polling place and check if they need to bring ID.
If you know people who might benefit from voting early or via mail (also known as absentee voting), make sure they know the process in their area, as well as the deadline to request an absentee ballot. If you’d like to help someone request or turn in an absentee ballot, review your state’s specific laws, as some places have strict rules around who can help.
You can help your family, friends and neighbors vote
People who cannot read or write in English, or those with a disability, can select someone to help them vote, as long as it isn’t a representative from their employer or union.
If you help someone vote in person, let an election worker know when you sign in. They may have the person you’re helping sign a form attesting to their need for assistance. Voting locations are also required to have accessible machines available for people with disabilities. And some jurisdictions are required to provide election materials in languages commonly spoken in the area.
If you help someone vote, remember: You can read the ballot to them or translate it. However, you are not allowed to tell them whom to vote for or to look at the ballot unless asked.
Some states have tried to make it harder in recent years for people to help voters. For example, Texas prohibited voters’ assistants from answering their questions, but that prohibition was later struck down by a federal judge. If you’re not sure about the laws in your state, you can ask your local election officials or call the election protection hotlines.
Tell journalists what you’re seeing
Our reporters want to know if you or someone you know experiences accessibility issues when voting or if the right to voting assistance is challenged. We’ll use this information to help fuel our future reporting, although we’ll contact you before sharing details about your experience.
You can volunteer or become a poll worker
Some jurisdictions are still recruiting poll workers. You can find more information on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s website.
The nonpartisan election protection hotlines are staffed by volunteers and will run through Election Day. Some are still looking for volunteers. You can sign up for shifts answering hotlines in the following languages: English, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Bangla, Hindi or Urdu, Korean and Vietnamese. You don’t need to have legal experience to sign up, and training is provided.by Asia Fields and Kengo Tsutsumi
Get involved in your community
ProPublica held a virtual panel about literacy with advocates for voting accessibility. Based on reader-submitted questions, we asked the panelists what advice they have for people who want to help.
Faye Combs, a literacy and voting advocate in California who learned to read as an adult, recommended getting involved with literacy programs through public libraries. She also highlighted the need to focus on accessibility for voters with disabilities.
Olivia Coley-Pearson, a city commissioner in Douglas, Georgia, who faced charges for helping people vote, said people should become familiar with the laws in their state. She recommended letting neighbors know if you can offer rides or other support. She also highlighted the need for compassion, as having trouble reading can be stigmatized.
“Let them know that you care and it’s OK. Most of all, that it’s OK to soften that level of shame or embarrassment,” Coley-Pearson said.