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Congressman Higgins Announces Approval of Legislation Supporting the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA) Program

PAVA Improves Voting Access for People with Disabilities, Signed Into Law by President

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the approval of the PAVA Program Inclusion Act (S.3969). The bipartisan bill builds on previous legislation to increase voting access for people with disabilities in the Northern Mariana Islands and American Indian consortiums.

“Our democratic electoral process is most successful when all voters have equal opportunities to participate,” said Congressman Higgins. “This legislation provides critical support for the disability community, especially for those living in underserved areas. It is an important step forward in expanding voting access and strengthening our democracy.”

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) authorized funding for the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access (PAVA) Program, through Protection & Advocacy (P&A) Systems, to help ensure eligible voters with disabilities have full access to the voting process.

Protection & Advocacy Systems are congressionally mandated, legally based disability rights organizations that work at the state level to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. They provide disability training for poll workers, distribute materials for how to conduct an accessible campaign, examine polling places for accessibility, and more. There are 57 such systems in the U.S. and territories but only 55 of them are currently eligible for funding according to HAVA. The original bill left out funding for Protection and Advocacy programs serving the Northern Mariana Islands and Tribal Lands across the country. The PAVA Program Inclusion Act fixes that oversight by explicitly authorizing the distribution of grant funding to these two P&As and improving voting access for people with disabilities who live in these areas.

This legislation will expand the definition of “state” under the current law, which includes Washington, DC, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, to also include the Northern Mariana Islands and American Indian consortiums. It will allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to award grants to public and non-profit organizations with expertise in voting issues for people with disabilities who apply for aid. To qualify for federal aid the majority of each organization’s board must be comprised of people with disabilities or be a family member of such individuals.

The bill is supported by the National Disability Rights Network, Native American Disability Law Center, and Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. It passed in the Senate earlier this year, was approved by the House on September 29, and signed into law by the President on September 30, 2022.