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Elections and Voting 2016: Service Dogs at the Polls

The presidential elections are right around the corner, and it’s time to start making plans about when, where, and how you’re going to vote. For voters with an Assistance Animal, there are even more considerations. Read on to learn more about making your trip to the polls with your Service Dog smooth and uneventful.

First things first, make sure you’ve got all of your voting logistics handled. The process for preparing to vote and for voting can be different in every state, but in general, you’ll need to:

  1. Determine your Eligibility — Federal U.S. law mandates that all U.S. citizens 18 or older, even if they turned 18 on the day of the election, are eligible to vote. State laws vary and may or may not exclude felons and incarcerated persons from voting. No one can be denied their right to vote based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, level of education, disability,
    United States Citizen Voting Rights With Service Dog

    You must be a U.S. citizen in order to vote.

    employment status or other factors, excluding citizenship, age and criminality.

  2. Check the Voter Registration Deadline — each state has differing deadlines for when you must be registered to vote in the upcoming November 8th election. Some states have their cutoff in mid October, and others allow you to register through the first couple days of November. This article will help you easily determine your state’s voter registration deadline.
  3. Register to Vote — each state has different requirements, but you can search for your state’s requirements here, as well as find everything you’ll need to complete registration in your state. Some states will even let you register completely online! If you don’t want to register online, you can complete your voter registration at your local DMV. Complete your registration early, as there are deadlines that must be met in order for you to participate in the upcoming presidential election.
  4. Check Your Status — a couple weeks after registering to vote, verify your status online if you haven’t received your Voter Registration Card in the mail.
  5. Find Your Polling Location — Every town/city (potentially county) provides one or more polling locations. Look up your polling location online, by calling your city hall or by contacting your local election board. Find the address and make sure you know how to get to the polls. Double check their hours of operation, too, so you can ensure you can be there at the proper times. Make sure to write down the name, location and hours of an alternate polling place, too, just in case.

Second, make sure your Service Dog is prepared for the environment at the polls. Federal law requires that the polls be accessible by individuals with disabilities, and many states mandate training for their poll workers on Service Dogs and accessibility. For most poll workers, their training will inform them that under federal anti-discrimination laws, Service Animals must be permitted to accompany a voter with a disability into the poll location, and allowed to stay with that voter throughout the entire process. They’re also regularly taught to walk on the side of the voter that is on the opposite side of the Assistance Dog, and that they should not pet or engage a Service Dog without permission from the owner or handler.

Your canine partner should be trained to stand quietly in line with you, at your side, without swinging out of position, which could impede someone else’s ability to walk freely by you. Lying quietly at your side or in front of you, if your partner is small enough to not overhang the walkways, is also an option. Be prepared for waiting — you should budget about an hour or so for most polling locations, just in case. In some places, you’ll be in and out in a couple of minutes. In others, the wait might be significantly longer.

Voting With a Service Dog

Your Service Dog should not infringe on other people’s space or protrude into walkways.

Your Service Dog will accompany you to the voting booth, which may or may not be an actual booth. It could be sectioned off space, a table or some other divided space, but whatever the set up, it must allow you to vote privately and without direct observation. Voters with disabilities are allowed to request additional accommodation to complete their ballots, as long as the request still allows the voter to maintain the secrecy of their decision.

On Election Day, make sure your partner is well-groomed. If your Assistance Dog wears gear, like a harness, vest or jacket, make sure their gear is clean and presentable, just like any other time you’d be out in public.

Double check the address to your local polling place, and make sure you’ve got your identification with you, even if ID isn’t required to vote in your state. It’s better to be safe than sorry. You can also bring your voter registration card, although, in most states, it’s not necessary.

Once you arrive, wait in line, cast your vote, and then leave knowing you’ve done your civic duty!


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