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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Understand Your Voting Options this November

October 9, 2020 | Leave a Comment

by Kathy Austin, CVA

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Air"I Voted" sticker on a man's finger over a green background

Never before has there been so much controversy about how we will vote in our National General Election. Today, with the coronavirus spreading, shortage of election officials, controversy about mail-in ballots and post office woes, you have to think carefully about how you are going to vote.

November 3, 2020 is Election Day. Whether you are casting your ballot by mail or in-person, voting early or on Election Day, you’ll want to be as informed as possible. The information below can help you understand how you can cast your ballot safely and privately. Remember, each state runs their own election and has differing rules and deadlines. To find your board of election office, visit the “Find My State or Local Election Office” page on the website.


Voting by Mail

You might ask, “What’s the difference between vote-by-mail and voting absentee?”

Every state allows absentee voting. But, you may be asked to provide a reason why you cannot vote in person. The majority of states are relaxing this requirement due to the pandemic. So essentially, there is no difference. Whether you vote-by-mail or absentee, officials check all ballots before they are counted to ensure their integrity.

States use different approaches to distributing ballots. You may have received an actual ballot in the mail or an application for a vote-by-mail ballot. In Illinois, if you are a registered voter, you should have already received your application in the mail. The application is a piece of heavy stock paper, 8 ½” x 11” folded in half, so be careful not to mistake it for junk mail. You must complete and sign this paper application to receive the actual ballot for November’s election.


Important To Consider When You Vote by Mail

Allow plenty of time for requesting your ballot and mailing it back to your board of elections. Slowdowns of mail deliveries by the US Post Office have been noted throughout the country. Dropping your ballot off in a designated receptacle may be a safer way to ensure your ballot gets to the right place and is counted. Your ballot must be postmarked no later than November 3, 2020.


Accessibility and Voting by Mail

Casting your vote on a paper ballot leads to accessibility issues. If you do not have a trusted person to complete your ballot the way you want it completed, what do you do? Stories abound for people who have tried to use a pen with a service like Aira to mark the ballot. According to this man’s experience in the Wisconsin primary, it did not work out well. However, the National Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind and disability rights organizations have filed lawsuits citing this inequity as a violation of the ADA. Many state courts have now passed decrees allowing electronic voting for people with print disabilities for the November election.

In the states that have approved this system for people with print disabilities, an electronic ballot is emailed to those requesting this accommodation. The electronic ballots are screen reader accessible. They have been tested by people who are blind or visually impaired, an important step to ensure accessibility. After making your choices, you must print and sign your ballot. You can mail your ballot via the USPS or drop it off at designated ballot receptacles or at your polling place on Election Day.

In Illinois, these ballots are available as of September 24, 2020.


For Illinois residents, here is what you need to know about electronic, accessible vote by mail

  • Electronic vote-by-mail is NOT available everywhere.  You must check with your local election office to ask for this accommodation.
  • You must have completed an application to request a mail-in-ballot.
  • After verifying you have completed an application to vote-by-mail, your election authority will ask you for your name, date of birth and the email address where you would like to receive the link to your electronic ballot.
  • Within 5 business days of the request, you will receive an email from This email will have an Access PIN and a link to access your electronic ballot.
  • After you complete your ballot electronically, you must print and sign your ballot.
  • You can mail your completed ballots via the USPS, drop ut off at a designated ballot receptacle or submit it at your polling place on Election Day.
  • If you receive a ballot by mail, please reach out to your local election authority for further instructions on substituting it with an electronic, accessible vote-by-mail ballot.
  • Election officials suggest requesting your accommodation of accessible vote-by-mail as soon as possible.

This YouTube video demonstrates how the electronic vote by mail system works.

You can change your mind after completing a vote-by-mail ballot and vote in-person. But, you must surrender your mail-in ballot to your polling place.


Voting Resources for People with Vision Loss

    Aira is a visual assistance subscription service. From now until Election Day, agents at Aira are offering free minutes to help you register to vote and fill out your ballot. They will also help research your candidates and work out transportation to and traveling through polling places.
  • National Federation of the Blind – NFB Newsline
    NFBNewsline has a separate section for subscribers on the 2020 Election including articles from a variety of sources on the presidential candidates and state voting guides.


For more information about voting, these nonpartisan organizations are helpful:

  • Vote 411 funded by the League of Women VotersPreview the ballot for your location, check your voter registration, polling places and state news alerts.
  • Vote.orgProvides information on voter rights, registration and polling place information, along with state by state deadlines and rules.

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense

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