Understanding Voting Barriers to Access for Americans with Low Literacy Skills

  • Kathryn SummersEmail author
  • Jonathan Langford
  • Caitlin Rinn
  • Joel Stevenson
  • Emily Rhodes
  • Jaime Lee
  • Rachel Sherard
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10290)


For our democracy to be truly representative, all adults who wish to vote need to be able to vote successfully and independently. But 42% of adult Americans read at Basic or Below Basic levels, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, and PEW research shows that citizens with lower literacy levels vote at much lower rates than citizens with higher literacy levels. Similarly, adults with disabilities vote at much lower rates than adults without disabilities. Prior research has identified some of the barriers that affect voting access for adults with disabilities; this in-depth ethnographic study explores the barriers that affect voting access for adults with lower literacy skills. Understanding these barriers sheds light on the human implications of current voting system controversies.

While this research focuses on activities related to voting, the barriers, behaviors, and coping strategies observed also have implications for the design of other public services. The research joins a growing body of data-driven insight into how to design information and services for this 42% of American adults. It also provides insights that are useful for other populations who don’t read well, such as English Language Learners, and for older adults who sometimes experience reduced functional literacy.


Voting Low literacy Civic literacy Disabilities Ethnography 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Summers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonathan Langford
    • 2
  • Caitlin Rinn
    • 1
  • Joel Stevenson
    • 1
  • Emily Rhodes
    • 1
  • Jaime Lee
    • 1
  • Rachel Sherard
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BaltimoreBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Interactive Educational Systems DesignRiver FallsUSA

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