Accessible Voting and Services
The Department of Elections is committed to ensuring all voters can participate in elections, and provides various accessible programs and services to help voters cast their vote privately and independently.
The Department meets regularly with its Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee to discuss and seek ways to improve and expand access to voting and services for all voters in San Francisco. If you are interested in collaborating with the Department to improve voter accessibility in San Francisco, visit the Participate in Advisory Committees page.
If you have questions or require further assistance, please contact the Department using the contact form or call (415) 554-4375. The Department also offers American Sign Language Interpretation at its office and teletypewriter (TTY) services. TTY users may call (415) 554-4386.
Four federal laws guide the Department’s accessible programs and services:
Voting Rights Act of 1965, which among many other provisions, mandates that any voter requiring assistance may receive it from a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer, or officer or agent of the voter’s union.
Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, which promotes the fundamental right to vote by requiring “access for elderly and disabled individuals to registration facilities and polling places”.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which requires public entities to provide auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of service, program or activity conducted by a public entity.
Help America Vote Act of 2002, which among other things, enables greater opportunity for access and participation in the election process, including provisions regarding accessible voting systems at each polling place.
Accessible Voter Information Pamphlets
San Francisco voters are mailed a standard 12-point font paper version of the Voter Information Pamphlet approximately one month before Election Day. In addition, the Department posts the Pamphlet online in various formats: HTML, XML, and PDF, all of which are available in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino. An MP3 audio version (ZIP) is also available in English.
For state and federal elections, voters receive two guides: the Voter Information Pamphlet, prepared by the San Francisco Department of Elections, and the California Voter Information Guide, prepared by the Secretary of State. The contains information about state and federal offices and state ballot measures. Additionally, the Secretary of State provides the information on the state measures in California Voter Information Guide. American Sign Language
The San Francisco Voter Information Pamphlet is available in additional accessible formats, including a large-print booklet, audiocassette, and thumb-drive (MP3 audio). To request the Pamphlet in one of these formats, use the contact form, or call (415) 554-4375. Teletypewriter (TTY) users may also call (415) 554-4386.
Accessible Voting Equipment
All polling places and Voting Centers have accessible ballot-marking devices.
The ballot-marking device allows voters to navigate through their ballots using features such as:
- Touchscreen tablet with options to change text and background colors and the text size
- Braille-embossed handheld keypad (audio-tactile interface)
- Headphones and audio instructions in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, and Filipino
The device is compatible with a number of assistive devices. Voters may bring in their own assistive devices, including sip-and-puff systems, paddles, and head-pointers.
Voters using the ballot-marking device have the option to view or hear a summary of their choices and change any selections before printing their ballots.
The ballot-marking device only marks a ballot; it does not count votes. The device generates and prints a paper ballot with the voter’s selections. The ballot is then scanned through the Ballot-Scanning Machine at the polling place for tabulation.
To learn more about San Francisco’s voting system, visit the Voting System page.
Accessible Vote-by-Mail System
An accessible vote-by-mail system is a ballot delivery option that allows voters with disabilities to access their ballot using any computer with internet access. Voters may download and mark their ballot privately and independently using their own assistive technology, print their marked ballot, and mail it to the Department of Elections to be counted. For more information, go to the Accessible Vote-by-Mail page.
Access to Polling Places on Election Day
To meet the needs of all San Francisco voters, the Department offers a variety of tools, services, and assistive technologies on Election Day, and continually evaluates and seeks to improve polling place accessibility.
Entryways and Voting Areas
On Election Day, “Accessible Entry” signs are posted outside polling places to direct voters towards the accessible entrance to the polling place. For the November 8, 2016 Election, 100% of Polling Places in San Francisco were designated as compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements for accessibility to voters, and the Department strives for 100% accessible designation in every election. To learn more about how the Department determines polling place accessibility, . view this short video
To confirm whether your polling place has an accessible entrance and voting area, check the back cover of your Voter Information Pamphlet for the international symbol of access, use the Polling Place and Sample Ballot Lookup Tool, or call (415) 554-4375. Teletypewriter (TTY) users may also call (415) 554-4386.
If your polling place is not accessible, you may choose to vote at a nearby accessible polling place. Use the Polling Place and Sample Ballot Lookup Tool or contact the Department to find the nearest accessible polling place that has the same ballot as your precinct.
The Department offers chairs and designated wheelchair accessible voting booths at all polling places and the City Hall Voting Center. The international symbol of access is posted on accessible voting booths so that they can be easily identified by voters.
All polling places provide large-print instructions on how to mark a ballot, optical sheets to magnify the print on the paper ballot or other election materials, and pen attachments to make the writing utensils easier to grip.
Personal Assistive Devices
The Department can also dispatch a head-pointer or a multi-user sip/puff device to a polling place on Election Day upon request. If you would like to request such device to be available at your polling place, please contact the Department using the contact form, or call (415) 554-4375. You may also contact the Department using TTY service by calling (415) 554-4386.
The Department trains poll workers to ask all voters if they would like to receive assistance related to voting. Poll workers may assist with reading the ballot to the voter and/or marking the voter’s choices on the ballot. Alternatively, a voter may bring up to two people to help them vote, except for the following people:
- Your employer
- An agent of your employer
- An agent of your union
No one that helps the person vote can tell that person how to vote or tell others how the person voted.
Any voter who cannot access a polling place or the City Hall Voting Center may request to vote “curbside.” A voter can either call (415) 554-4375 or have a passenger or a friend enter the polling place or the City Hall Voting Center and give the voter’s information to a poll worker or a staff member.
When notified that someone has requested curbside voting, a poll worker or a staff member will bring the necessary materials and the ballot to the voter and assist the voter, if necessary. When the person finishes voting, the person returns the ballot, which is then placed by a poll worker or a staff member into a voting machine or a secure, sealed ballot container.
To schedule curbside voting call (415) 554-4375, TTY (415) 554-4386, or email SFVote@sfgov.org.
Additional Accessible Voting Options and Services
The Department provides additional accessible voting options and services to ensure all voters are able to cast their ballot privately and independently.
City Hall Voting Center
The City Hall Voting Center is open to all San Francisco voters starting 29 days before every election and offers the same accessible voting options that are available at San Francisco polling places, including accessible voting machines, page-sized magnifiers, foam pen grips to make the writing instruments easier to grip, wheelchair accessible voting booths, seated voting, curbside voting, materials in large print. In addition, the Department offers American Sign Language Interpretation via video at the City Hall Voting Center.
The City Hall Voting Center is located on the ground floor of San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 48 and is accessible from all four entrances. Visit the Vote at the City Hall Voting Center page for more information.
Voting by Mail
Approximately one month before the election, the Department mails ballots to permanent vote-by-mail voters and those who have requested one-time vote-by-mail ballots. Along with their ballots, voters receive voting instructions with information about election deadlines, ballot return options, and a reminder that voters can track the status of their ballots using the Voter Portal.
Voters can return their voted ballot to the Department using the postage-paid return envelope enclosed in the Vote-by-Mail ballot packet. Ballots can be returned in person to the City Hall Voting Center beginning 29 days before the election, or to any polling place in California on Election Day. Voters may also return their ballots to the curbside drop-off stations outside City Hall or authorize someone to return a ballot on their behalf. For more information about voting by mail, visit the Vote by Mail page
Ballot Delivery Program
Approximately two weeks before the election up until Election Day, the Department facilitates ballot pick up and delivery. Any voter may authorize a person to pick up and return a ballot on his or her behalf. Voters may use the Ballot Pickup Authorization Form (PDF) or submit their own written authorization. The written authorization must be signed under penalty of perjury and include the voter’s name, date of birth, residential address, and the name of person authorized to pick up the ballot.
Upon request, if the voter is homebound, in the hospital, in a residential care facility, the Department can deliver or pick up a ballot for the voter. On Election Day, the Department organizes personnel dedicated solely to delivering and picking up ballots for voters who find themselves unable to make it to the polls.
If you require additional assistance to receive or return your ballot, please contact the Department using the contact form, or call (415) 554-4375.
Residential Care Facility, Hospital, and Inmate Voting Programs
The Department has targeted programs in place to provide election-related services to people in convalescent and residential care facilities, hospitals, and detention facilities. These programs include voter registration, applying for a vote-by-mail ballot, ballot pickup or delivery, and other services as needed.