Disabled voters still face trouble at the polls

National Disability Voter Registration Week works to ensure all voters have a voice

Written by Nisha Behrman, Common Cause intern on July 20, 2016

Disabled voters still face trouble at the polls:

With the November elections approaching, national efforts towards increasing voter turnout are underway. During the second week of July, the National Council on Disability hosted “National Disability Voter Registration Week” in hopes of ensuring that the disability community’s voice, both collectively and as individuals, will be heard this election year. 

To learn more about the challenges that those with disabilities encounter when voting, Common Cause interviewed Tom Valeri. Tom is a dedicated voter who constantly encourages others around him to exercise their vote regardless barriers they may experience to do so. Tom is quadriplegic, so he does not have any movement from the below the neck and uses a wheelchair.

What assistance do you receive when you go to vote?

I vote at a high school, which is very easy to get into. Not all voting places are as well prepared as my voting location. My wife goes with me, and we go to the table for registered Democrats, and they find our cards.

Everytime I go to vote, my wife has to fill out a paper that authorizes her to vote for me, which can be irritating. I can’t tell you how many of those papers she has had
 to fill out. There should be a way to keep the signed paper on file permanently. After we sign the paper, we go over to tables and my wife sits in a chair next to me and votes for me. It’s pretty easy.

Do you know other people with handicaps that do not vote or have a hard time voting?

Yes, I do know a few handicapped people who do not vote. They usually are not proactive enough to take the steps the necessary steps to vote when you are handicapped. When you have a disability, you need to think ahead about voting. You have to call the county and find out where your voting station is and get this figured out about five weeks before the election.

A lot of people who are handicapped also have no means of getting to voting locations on their own.  I have a handicapped van and my wife to help me, and not everyone has that. If people do not have the means to get to the polling places, there should be a free service to get them to and from the voting places. Why should you have to depend on your neighbor to help you vote? You should be able to hop on board or do it from home and have people come to you. Especially at nursery homes and assisted living locations.

Would voting processes be better for people with disabilities if there were more options to vote from home?

Yes and No. Yes, because at places like assisted living homes, it can be very hard for people to make it out to a voting location. Luckily, the place where I vote is very close to a nursing home. Every year the nursing home will have what I like to call a “Voting Parade.” During the voting parade, volunteers walk the elderly over to the voting location in one big go.

However, I would also answer “No” because I really like going to the voting place and I think other people do too. There is something about being out there with other people voting, seeing neighbors and talking to neighbors. It is a social event.

A quick story: Last primary, my wife and I were coming out of voting, and we saw two women looking lost. The women had to walk 5 miles home, so we gave them a ride home. They were Eastern European women and they were so excited to vote; it was their first time. It was so funny. When we got to their apartment they invited us for coffee the following week. That’s what hit me, they were so excited.

What recommendations do you have to improve voting for people with disabilities?

If we got the assisted voting authorization paper saved on file and also created a driving service or home service for disabled people I think we would be 90% done. Other than that, we need to continue to encourage people to vote whether or not they have a disability.

Tom Valeri’s story reflects the sentiments of many disabled Americans. When asked about alternative voting methods for the next election, majorities of people both with and without disabilities said they would prefer voting in person in a polling place.  The voter registration rate of people with disabilities was also 2.3 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities in 2012. The lower voter turnout is partially due to a lower registration rate among people with disabilities, but it is more attributed to a lower turnout among those who are registered, demonstrating the need for driving services like Tom suggested.

It is crucial that all people with disabilities—including senior citizens and veterans—register to vote and exercise their Constitutional right to vote in the elections in November. To learn more about ongoing disability voting and registration efforts please visit http://www.ncd.gov/.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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