NPR, October 21, 2020: Supreme Court Blocks Curbside Voting In Alabama, An Option During Pandemic

One of the quotes that really stuck out from AFB’s Flattening Inaccessibility survey was a story about curbside voting.

“I voted in the primaries, but the polling place did not have a ramp, and though they offered to bring the portable voting booth out, they would only do that if you parked your car in the designated spot. Since we got dropped off by Lyft, we did not have a car. So, two citizens from the voting line outside had to help lift my wheelchair up the curb.” –An older white male voter with visual impairment and additional disabilities

There is so much to this story: the lack of accessible polling places, our car-dependent society, the unwillingness to make reasonable accommodations, and the indignities that people with disabilities must endure daily. It clearly demonstrates why accessible voting is a civil right and how important disability-inclusive voting is, especially during the pandemic. It also shows how transportation policies and assumptions about individuals’ access to private vehicles interfere not only with movement but the mobility to access critical opportunities, experiences, and services.

It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to think that more people would want to vote at the curbside this year. As in the survey participant’s story, many polling places are inaccessible, such that voters with certain disabilities can’t even get in the building. A 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office found that 60 percent of surveyed polling places had one or more potential impediments outside the building that could impact voter access. Additionally, many people with significant risk factors for COVID-19 will be reluctant to stand in line to vote in an enclosed space with people who may or may not be wearing masks or following physical distancing protocols, depending on the jurisdiction.

That’s why it was so disappointing to read that the Supreme Court will allow the state of Alabama to proceed with a ban on curbside voting as an accommodation for people with disabilities. Even though the Court will still have the chance to uphold a lower court ruling overturning the ban, the election is fast approaching, and this decision prevents counties that want to accommodate voters with disabilities from doing so.

I grew up in one of those counties, and some people who are near and dear to me have disabilities that make in-person voting during a pandemic extremely nerve-racking, not to mention the difficulties of standing in a long line. I’ll be watching closely with the hope and expectation that the Supreme Court makes the right call and reverses its decision. I fail to see how a blanket ban on a reasonable accommodation to vote is ever, much less during a pandemic, “a win for the people of Alabama,” as Mr. Merrill put it.