Preparing and Supporting Individuals with Disabilities during Local Elections

By September 4, 2023NESCA Notes 2021

By: Tabitha Monahan, MA, CAGS, CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

It’s Labor Day, and the signs for local elections will increase significantly over the next two months. Non-presidential election years see a drastic drop in participation in the voting process. This drop extends even more for years where there are only local elections. However, it is our local elections that have the most significant impact on our day-to-day lives. Whether it is the town selectman, city council, zoning board, or school committee, voting for these candidates can make a big difference in the priorities and projects that become the focus of your community.

So how can we help our young people with disabilities exercise their right to vote? Even individuals with guardianship maintain their right to vote in Massachusetts unless the court documents specifically state otherwise. There are many ways to support individuals, but it starts with helping them register. Massachusetts residents can register to vote online when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID or at the local registrar of voters’ office. Notices from MassHealth and the DTA also include voter registration forms.

Our young people may need more guidance in understanding the importance of voting in local elections and the purpose of those positions. Below are some great resources to support our young people in voting. This article by Rock the Vote explains more about the importance of voting in local elections. Reach out to your local election official to determine what positions will be on the ballot and if there is a local primary election before the November election. Be prepared to explain the role of the positions to youth who may not have had experience dealing with the department.

Absentee/mail-in ballots have long been an excellent strategy for individuals with disabilities who would have difficulty voting in person. Absentee ballots are a great option for individuals who may have difficulty navigating the multiple steps in person or have a lower processing speed.

All citizens are also allowed to bring a person to help them while they are at the polls. Encourage your young person by educating them that many people require assistance at the polls, and it is completely normal to have the help available if they need it. Each polling location should also have at least one AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal, which helps individuals with visual impairments vote independently.

No one wants their vote not to be counted due to errors filling out their ballot. People can request a sample ballot in advance from their local registrar of voters (the Secretary of State’s website can give you the address and phone number of your local registrar). Practicing filling out ballots in advance (even ballots from previous elections) can help a new voter become comfortable with the form and is great fine motor skill practice for those who may need it!

While typically not applicable to local elections, it is important to remember that the Massachusetts Secretary of State also creates a voter information booklet for each election regarding the ballot initiatives. These red booklets can be found at many community locations and frequently include the local library, post office, and city/town hall. These booklets offer information on what a yay or nay vote would mean and have information from each initiative’s proponents and opponents. Use that sample ballot as a starting point for the different types of elected positions.

Help your young adult find out what the different boards do and why there is an election for things such as town selectman or zoning board. Help your young adult find the websites for candidates running for office and review the candidates’ stances on issues. Ask what issues they want to learn more about and are important to them.

Most importantly, remind them that their voice counts. As many disability rights activists have said, “nothing about us without us.” Individuals with disabilities are greatly affected by the policy decisions that occur in government at all levels. Individuals with disabilities have frequently experienced disenfranchisement, and many groups are working tirelessly to lessen and remove these barriers. How have you helped your young adult exercise their right to vote?


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, MA, CAGS, CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.


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NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, Londonderry, New Hampshire, and the greater Burlington, Vermont area, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email or call 617-658-9800.