Laura Halvorson was ready to vote. On Thursday afternoon, she sat in front of a ballot screen at the Igo Library in San Antonio, after spending a month preparing for this moment. It was the first time in years that she had been in a public place, other than a doctor’s office.
Sitting in her wheelchair, she wore two masks — one a KN95, the other a part of her breathing machine. Because Ms. Halvorson, 38, has muscular dystrophy, a condition that progressively decreases muscle mass, and makes her more vulnerable to Covid-19, she needed to use a remote-control device supplied by poll workers to make her ballot selections.
No one knew how it worked.
The glitch was one of many obstacles she had to navigate, both on that day and over the previous weeks, to fulfill what she saw as her civic duty. For Ms. Halvorson and others with disabilities, casting a ballot can always present a challenge. But new voting restrictions enacted in several states over the past two years have made it even harder.
A law signed last year by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has made it more difficult for voters to cast ballots by mail and narrowed their options for voting in person, according to groups that advocate for people with disabilities and voting rights. Other Republican-led state legislatures, including in Georgia and Florida, have passed similar measures as a part of what they say are efforts to prevent voter fraud, despite rare occurrences of the crime.
“Instead of embracing the more accessible forms of voting that sparked record turnout, including among voters with disabilities,” said Brian Dimmick, a senior staff attorney for the disability rights program of the American Civil Liberties Union, “states have doubled down on new and more restrictive voter-suppression laws.”
None of the new laws single out those with disabilities, but advocates say they have left many people who would otherwise vote by mail with burdensome options: face the greater risk that their mail-in ballot could be thrown out — as Texas did at a higher-than-usual rate during the March primary — or go to the polls in person, which involves its own set of inconveniences or, worse, physical barriers, and often deprives people with disabilities of a sense of privacy and independence that other voters can take for granted.