Voting Accessibility Advisory Committees (VAACs): Best Practices for County Elections Offices


Voting Accessibility Advisory Committees (VAACs): Best Practices for County Elections Offices

A voting accessibility advisory committee (VAAC) is a committee of elections officials and community members that meets regularly to develop strategies to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities. A VAAC can benefit a county in many ways, including by providing a forum for the disability and senior communities to voice their concerns, as well as by providing opportunities for collaboration and outreach.

A voting accessibility advisory committee (VAAC) is a committee of elections officials and community members that meets regularly to develop strategies to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities. A VAAC can benefit a county in many ways, including by providing a forum for the disability and senior communities to voice their concerns, as well as by providing opportunities for collaboration and outreach.

When done well, a VAAC is a partnership that facilitates regular dialogue between a county elections office and the disability and senior communities. VAACs play an important role in helping counties comply with election laws and provide equal access to all voters. Typical issues addressed by VAACs are the accessibility of voting systems, the accessibility of polling places, and ways to improve the voting experience. This publication is intended mostly to help county elections offices as they form VAACs and carry out VAAC-related activities. If you are a voter with a disability who is interested in VAACs, please see our related publication "VAACs: How Voters with Disabilities Can Make Elections More Accessible" (Pub. #5594.01).

Initial steps

A county elections office should take the lead in setting up the VAAC. This is within the duties of a county elections office. Because county policies vary, elections officials should consult their local rules regarding establishing advisory committees.

Are VAACs required?

Every county that is implementing the California Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) must establish a VAAC. The VAAC must include voters with disabilities. The county elections office must establish the VAAC no later than October 1 of the year before the first election conducted under the VCA. The VAAC must have its first meeting no later than April 1 of the year in which the first election is conducted under the VCA. For example, if a county is implementing the VCA for the first time for the statewide primary election in June 2022, it would have had to have established its VAAC no later than October 1, 2021, and it would have to hold the first VAAC meeting no later than April 1, 2022.

Though the law allows these actions to happen as late as October 1 and April 1 prior to the first VCA election, we strongly encourage counties to have their VAACs up and running well before these deadlines. If a county waited until April 1 of the election year to hold the first VAAC meeting, it would miss a crucial opportunity to use the expertise of VAAC members in drafting its election administration plan (EAP) to comply with the VCA. The EAP is required to include information about meeting the needs of voters with disabilities. VAAC members from the disability and senior communities can, for example, help elections officials identify good vote center and ballot drop off locations. They also can help plan the voter education and outreach activities required by the VCA so that those activities are likely to reach voters with disabilities and inform them of their accessible voting options.

For all other counties in California (that is, for all counties not implementing the VCA), VAACs are optional. Even though VAACs are not required for these other counties, the California Secretary of State’s office strongly encourages all counties to form VAACs. (See, for example, page 3 of the “County Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee Toolkit” published by the state-level VAAC in August 2017, available at As discussed above, all counties would benefit from forming a VAAC because the VAAC would help their elections officials improve voting accessibility and cultivate productive relationships with the local disability and senior communities.

“Stand-alone” VAAC recommended

A VAAC should be focused on accessibility for voters with disabilities. As such, we strongly recommend that a VAAC be formed and maintained as a “stand-alone” committee, not as part of a joint committee or a subset of a larger committee.

In counties with fewer than 50,000 registered voters, the law allows there to be a joint advisory committee for “language minority communities” and voters with disabilities. The advisory committee that includes representatives of “language minority communities” is called a language accessibility advisory committee (LAAC). VAACs and LAACs both help with accessibility issues, broadly speaking; VAACs focus on accessibility for voters with disabilities, while LAACs focus on accessibility for voters whose primary language is not English. Although having a combined VAAC/LAAC is allowed by law in these smaller counties, we have observed that there are advantages to having separate VAACs and LAACs. For example, it can be difficult to have a single combined VAAC/LAAC meeting long enough to adequately cover both disability and language access issues; either there are fewer participants due to the sheer length of the meeting or there is insufficient time to address all issues meaningfully. For these reasons, we recommend having a stand-alone VAAC even in counties where a combined VAAC/LAAC is allowed under the VCA.

Recruiting members

For VAACs to be successful, it is critical to have participation from a wide swath of the community. County elections officials should reach out directly to their local disability and senior communities—and people who work with those communities—with an invitation to join the VAAC. Just posting meeting times online is not likely to reach many prospective VAAC members. Community members will likely be excited to be a part of the VAAC, but it will take outreach to explain the VAAC’s role and purpose. Also, make sure to let people who work with voters with disabilities know they can be on a VAAC without being elections experts or having a disability. Some examples of people who work with voters with disabilities are listed in the next section of this publication.

While the VAAC should be advertised on the county government and elections websites, elections officials are likely to reach far more prospective VAAC members through a multiplatform media effort. Post on social media. Record spots for local radio stations. Do interviews for local television stations. Run advertisements in and/or write opinion pieces for local newspapers. Post flyers and posters on public transportation, at libraries, at community centers, and at some of the offices and centers listed below. Be sure to include in each of these communications specific information about how to join the VAAC, such as a phone number, email address, or webpage. Remember to ensure the communications meet accessibility standards for people with disabilities.  

Community-based organizations and agencies

Here are some organizations and agencies that regularly work with people with disabilities. They may help by advertising the VAAC to their clientele, as well as by having their staff or volunteers join the VAAC as members. Some might already have staff and client advocates who are focused on voting issues.

Elections officials in neighboring counties can be a good source of best practices for member recruitment. In addition, it can be helpful to contact organizations that are based in another county but serve people with disabilities across county lines. Finally, the Voting Rights Practice Group at Disability Rights California can help identify resources and community members; we can be reached at (888) 569-7955.

Educate and recruit county elections staff

County elections staff are great resources for the VAAC, too. Not only can they help identify community members who would make good VAAC members, but they can join the VAAC themselves. In smaller counties, it may be that all or most elections staff are or will be working on VAAC-related activities and know about the VAAC because they work on it. However, in larger counties, it may require some internal outreach. Whatever the size of the county, we encourage county elections officials to make an effort to ensure that all county elections staff know about the VAAC and understand its purpose. Send an office-wide email describing the VAAC and letting staff know it is recruiting members. Make the VAAC a periodic agenda item for staff meetings. Encourage staff to invite community members to join the VAAC.

Any member of the county elections office can be a VAAC member. As with community members, there is no requirement for staff to have a disability in order for them to join the VAAC. We recommend that staff with the following job titles or responsibilities be VAAC members:

  • Executive management (e.g., Registrar, Assistant Registrar)
  • Head poll worker trainer
  • Elections equipment supervisor
  • Polling site inspector
  • Community outreach staff
  • Media communications staff
  • Election workers, such as longtime volunteers and/or senior citizens

Leadership structure

There are no laws specifying the leadership structure and operations of county-level VAACs (aside from the dates by which they must be formed and have their first meeting in counties implementing the VCA). The next few sections of this publication contain our recommendations on these topics based on our years of experience with VAACs throughout the state.

We recommend that each county VAAC have two co-chairs, one from the elections staff and one from the community. Co-chairs should be elected by committee members and have a finite term. Toward the end of a co-chair’s term, other members should be encouraged to apply to become a co-chair.

A county elections office staff member should be the coordinator for the VAAC. This person can answer questions via phone and email, arrange meeting logistics, distribute meeting agendas, and handle other administrative issues.

Meeting frequency

We recommend holding VAAC meetings at least once per quarter. Suggested months for meetings are March, June, September, and December, avoiding highly stressful times close to elections. Consistency in the frequency and start time of meetings allows community members to work the VAAC into their schedules.

Agendas and suggested topics for meetings

The VAAC co-chairs should create and distribute an agenda for each meeting, incorporating county needs, such as input on specific accessibility issues, and community members’ concerns.

Here are some typical agenda items for VAAC meetings. (Note that the next section of this publication also suggests agenda items that match the requirements of the VCA.)

  • Help select locations for polling places or vote centers and provide advice on the accessibility of these locations.
    • Review the plans for selecting polling places or vote centers and surveying them for physical accessibility.
    • Have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) inspector for polling places and vote centers make a post-election presentation to the VAAC on reported physical accessibility issues.
  • Provide feedback on the content and accessibility of the county elections website.
  • Participate in the training of election workers (a.k.a. poll workers).
    • Review the training materials for accessible voting systems to ensure they contain all important information and are readily understandable by election workers.
    • Review the training materials for election workers about the etiquette for interacting with voters with disabilities.
    • Review the accessibility of training materials for election workers who have disabilities.
  • Review the county’s remote accessible vote-by-mail (RAVBM) technology, how voters access it (e.g., web portal, request by phone or email), and how it is publicized.
  • Suggest community outreach strategies.
  • Provide advice on media strategies for reaching voters with disabilities.
  • Suggest how the county should use the funds it receives under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), such as for the purchase of items like cones for parking and signage for curbside voting.
  • Discuss new or pending legislation affecting voters with disabilities.
  • Provide advice on recruiting election workers with disabilities.
  • Assist in the development of educational videos.
  • Remember to include an item on each agenda to plan or confirm the date, time, and location of the next VAAC meeting.

The agenda should be distributed as widely as possible at least 24 hours prior to each VAAC meeting. At the very least, it should be emailed to all VAAC members who have provided an email address, and it should be posted on the county elections website. To maximize engagement by county elections staff, we recommend notifying all staff of each VAAC meeting via email and/or an online calendar.

If VAAC members are unable to attend a meeting, we suggest inviting them to submit questions and comments by email (or another means that works for them). Their questions and comments can then be read aloud and discussed during the meeting so that they are able to contribute even when they have to be absent.

Agenda items for VAACs in counties implementing the VCA

As mentioned above, every county that is implementing the VCA must establish a VAAC that includes voters with disabilities. The VCA has specific requirements for engaging the disability community and addressing the needs of voters with disabilities. VAAC meetings in VCA counties should incorporate these requirements into their agendas. (Many of the following items are appropriate for VAACs in counties using a traditional polling place election model, too, even though those counties are not subject to the requirements of the VCA.)

  • Help plan the required public meeting for members of the disability community and organizations and individuals that advocate on behalf of or provide services to people with disabilities as the county elections office is drafting the EAP (often called the “consultation meeting”).
  • Help plan the required voter education workshop for voters with disabilities.
  • Assess vote center locations and their preparedness to meet the needs of voters with disabilities while ensuring the privacy and independence of the voting process.
  • Assess ballot drop off locations and how well they meet the needs of voters with disabilities.
  • Review the accessibility of information on the county elections website.
  • Determine if the county elections office is prepared to provide election materials in accessible formats when requested by voters.
  • Determine if the county elections office is prepared to provide alternate methods of voting for voters with disabilities for whom vote-by-mail ballots are not accessible.
  • Assess the accessibility of the county’s toll-free voter assistance hotline.
  • Comment on the county’s voter education and outreach plan, including the following components:
    • The plan for using various forms of media to inform voters of the availability of vote-by-mail ballots in accessible formats and how to request them.
    • The plan for accessible public service announcements about upcoming elections and the toll-free voter assistance hotline.
    • The plan for at least two direct contacts with voters to inform them of upcoming elections and promote the toll-free voter assistance hotline.
  • Identify areas needing mobile vote centers.

Planning accessible meetings

Elections officials must take steps to make meetings accessible for all participants. Accessibility is about more than the physical accessibility of a building. The American Bar Association has published a great toolkit for planning accessible meetings and events:

VAAC meetings can be held at the county elections office, though elections staff should seek input from VAAC members about alternate meeting locations. Different meeting locations may improve attendance and may be easier to reach for members who use public transportation. Make sure there is a way for participants to attend the meeting remotely. Offering the option to attend via phone or video is a great way to increase participation and accessibility. Light snacks and drinks can help improve attendance, especially if meetings are held in the evening, when many people are getting off work, and they can make meetings more comfortable. However, as discussed in the above-referenced guide, be cautious about common food allergies and sensitivity to strong scents.

VAAC webpage

Creating a separate VAAC webpage on the county elections website has a number of benefits. It can be used to post agendas, meeting notes, and announcements so that anyone can access them at any time. It also is useful for recruitment of VAAC members, as it is a place where prospective members can learn more about the VAAC. A link to the VAAC webpage should feature prominently on the part of the county elections website that has general information for voters with disabilities.


All counties are strongly encouraged to create a VAAC because it is an important tool to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities. County elections officials and staff with questions about VAACs are invited to contact the Voting Rights Practice Group at Disability Rights California (DRC) by calling (888) 569-7955. We regularly participate in dozens of VAACs statewide and are happy to share our expertise. We also welcome invitations to join additional VAACs as or after they are formed. While DRC’s involvement is not a substitute for participation by community members, we would appreciate the opportunity to join the discussion.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.