Effective Communication and Voting

Young woman polling volunteer assisting senior citizen with headphones of voting machine.The ADA requires state and local governments to provide communication that is as understandable to citizens with disabilities as it is for all other citizens. This is known as “effective communication.”  As elections require extensive communication between local governments and citizens, ensuring “effective communication” is a critical part of meeting ADA obligations.

Election officials use a number of methods to communicate with citizens. The effective communication requirement applies to all of these methods, including but not limited to:

  • Website information on voting and registration.
  • Face to face communication.
  • Printed information.
  • Auditory information including videos and presentations at meetings.  
  • Ballot. The information on the ballot itself is a form of communication.

Auxiliary Aids

An auxiliary aid is a device or service that allows persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills to communicate with others and to understand communication from others. 

Generally, communication can be made effective by using appropriate auxiliary aids at each stage of the voting process, from registering to vote to casting a ballot.

Providing Auxiliary Aids

Constituents should know that auxiliary aids are available and also know how to request them.

Example: Website and print announcement of a voter outreach meeting should include information on how to request an ASL interpreter or Computer Assisted Real-Time Captioning (CART)

Elections officials may require reasonable advance notice from citizens requesting auxiliary aids based on the length of time needed to acquire the aid or service.  However, they should be careful not to require excessive advance notice requirements.

When determining the type of auxiliary aid to be provided, election officials should give primary consideration to the voter’s request.  However, local governments do have the option of using a different type of auxiliary aid if it is just as effective in providing understandable communication.

Example: Written communication for short interactions with polling staff instead of an on-site interpreter.

“Walk-in” requests for aids and services should be honored to the fullest extent possible. Having vendors already identified for services or large print copies of information already developed is highly recommended.

Note: No fees may be charged for expenses, labor, or time involved in providing auxiliary aids.

Exceptions for the Effective Communication Requirement

  • Election officials are not required to provide auxiliary aids that would cause an undue financial or administrative burden. The financial burden must be based on the overall operating budget, not just the budget allocated for elections. 
  • Whenever an auxiliary aid request is found to be “not reasonable,” the local government should try to find another way to provide effective communication to the fullest extent possible.
  • Election officials are also not required to take actions that would affect the “fundamental nature of the program,” such as election security or confidentiality.
  • Procedures are in place for taking effective communication requests and providing the aid or service in a reasonable time-frame.

Effective Communication Checklist

  • Vendors are identified to provide services such as ASL interpreting and CART when requested.
  • Citizens can easily find out how to request alternate formats or auxiliary aids.
  • Web pages with content related to voting are accessible. 
  • Web pages provide users with contact information to report difficulty accessing information.
  • Electronic formats of printed documents are available so content can be easily emailed if requested.
  • Large print copies of commonly used materials are made in advance and are readily available.
  • Videos or other types of multi-media used for the election process are captioned.
  • Election staff and volunteers who answer phones are aware of Telecommunication Relay Services (TRS) and know to accept these calls.
  • Polling places have poster paper, markers, and tape available if signs need to be made to communicate unplanned changes on election day.
  • Pen and paper are handy for written communication with voters.
  • There is good color contrast between the text and background on printed materials and signs.
  • Clear, straight-forward language with short sentences is used.
  • Each polling place has signs clearly indicating where the voting area and ballot box are located.

Published: August 11, 2020