National Disability Voter Registration Week

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I’m a greenhorn when it comes to political action. So when I received a request to promote National Disability Voter Registration Week, I turned to my colleagues at the Office of Social Justice (OSJ) who suggested contacting our local city government to ask them to make a proclamation about Disability Voter Registration Week. Great idea, but I know next to nothing about contacting local government. Thankfully, folks at our local center for independent living, Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC), knew who to contact. The next day (!) Adelyn at DAKC received a message from Assistant to the Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Amy Snow-Buckner, saying, “Mayor Bliss is pleased to provide a proclamation for Disability Voter Registration Week.” See it attached.

Mayor Bliss is pleased, and I’m pleased that she “supports the growing involvement of the disability community in the political process” and proclaims July 11 – 15, 2016, National Disability Voter Registration Week. (See the attached, which is not copyrighted. You may modify it for your own community.) 

For democracy to function well, citizens need to be able to vote. This is a justice issue. Citizens have the right to vote, including citizens with disabilities. The proclamation notes that “over 50 million people with disabilities of all ages [live] in communities throughout the United States.” It emphasizes that people with disabilities, like all people, have a critical interest in policy issues, and that voting is one way to influence the direction of these policies.

Here’s a thought to ponder: if the 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S. voted as a block, they would decide every single election for president. I can say this with certainty: they would decide who their next president would be every single election cycle. The largest margin of victory by popular vote in the U.S. was in 1972 when Richard Nixon won the election against George McGovern by 18 million people. Barak Obama won by 9 and a half million people in 2008, and many presidents won by margins less than that.

How well is your community doing at making voting fully accessible for people with disabilities? For example, can they get to the polling place if they use a wheelchair? Can they use the ballot if they cannot see it? If you would like to get involved further, check out the National Disability Voter Registration Week resources and ideas, most of which are relevant far beyond this particular week. Also see the attached accessibility checklist for polling places if you want to work with officials to ensure that the polling places in your community can be used by citizens with disabilities. 

If you live with a disability, have you had trouble voting in the past? Please tell me about it!

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Community Builder

 Not me personally, but my mom did at one municipal election.  She has angina, which is a form of heart disease, and she went to vote at an advance polling station that required a lot of walking one year, and when she got to the desk to vote she complained about having to walk all that distance, and the person in charge said she was taking note of the complaint.  You see, a lot of the accommodations when they are made, are almost always only in terms of wheelchair-bound people, who are assumed to be able to wheel themselves around to any distance as long as they don't have to overcome the hurdle of steps or stairs, but people who have heart problems often find walking long distances very hard because they get out of breath easily.  And that day, when my mom got back to the car after voting, she told my dad not to bother because it was too far, and he had even more difficulty walking than my mom. I can't think of the proper term right now but it has to do with the heart not pumping hard enough and fluid accumulating on the lungs.  In Canada, we don't vote for everything at once.  Federal, provincial and municipal elections are held separately, and municipal elections are governed by provincial laws, so they vary from one province to another.  Then we also have to vote for school-board officials. However, we don't vote for judges or sheriffs or any law-enforcing officials.  Judges are appointed by governments; police officers have to do a three-year professional junior college program (in Québec) after which they go to a police academy and are picked by municipal or provincial police corps upon graduation from said academy.

 But what I want to emphasize here is that not all disabilities require the same accommodations, and what works for people in wheelchairs is not necessarily good for people with heart or respiratory problems.  It's NOT a one size fits all. 

Guide

Michele, thanks for your mother's story. You are right that most accessibility thought is put into accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, but other challenges must be considered too, such as the struggle your mother has walking long distances. I also wonder how well people with visual impairments are able to place their vote. 

Community Builder

 I've worked as poll secretary in some provincial elections, and in cases like that the person who is blind can be accompanied by a friend or relative who will tell them the names of the candidates and what party they stand for.  Usually, the candidates are listed in alphabetical order since that is neutral.

Goodness, reading this and thinking about my polling place has me rather horrified, as well as a little embarrassed that I hadn't thought about it before.  I live out in the country and we vote at a small community center with a dirt parking lot, narrow door with concrete steps to the threshold, and a porta-potty bathroom.  I am planning to call our county government and ask what accommodations are available for someone who can't handle that situation--I'm guessing that they would have to make special arrangements to go to the courthouse, but it's probably safe to say mine isn't the only rural county with similar problems and many rural citizens with disabilities are probably effectively discouraged from voting. 

Guide

Cindy, thanks for your comment and for your plan of action. Please post another comment with the results! One other way to encourage citizens with physical disabilities to vote is to make absentee voting not only easier to do but also intentionally promoted by election officials. If citizens knew that absentee voting was available to them, and if they had an easy path to receive a ballot and send it in, that would go a long ways toward giving more people the vote. 

Community Builder

 Some time ago I watched an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in which he talked about voting and how some states make it extremely difficult for black people to vote with the Voter I.D. laws they have passed in which those poor people NEVER have the proper documents to be eligible to vote, so I'd suggest that in some states being black is a disability that the state government makes no attempt to help.  If anything they deliberately complicate the voting process for coloured people. You might want to watch this episode just to see the hypocrisy of the politicians who pass this sort of legislation.  You can find it on Youtube.

Guide

Michele, I too have heard similar reports. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision three years ago to invalidate several parts of the voting rights act may make matters worse for African American voters this time they vote for president. 

Community Builder

  Apparently, it already has.  According to John Oliver, not only do black people have to contend with bureaucratic obfuscation but with logistics as well.  Some of those offices are not opened every day of a business week but only a few hours in a given month, so if you don't have the right papers at the right time, you can miss several opportunities to vote in primary elections thereby being effectively denied your right to vote.  In the mean time some of the politicians who supported this sort of legislation have been seen on TV voting in someone else's place for or against a bill in the state's congress.  We're supposed to support justice, so if there is such a law in the books of your state, then you should work to have it repealed.  If you don't know, find out. It might not help black voters this time around since governments are NOT known to turn on a dime, especially if they adopted such a racist policy in the first place, but at least they may be able to vote without hindrance next time.