You’re Not a Second Class Citizen
Now that the primaries are over it is time to begin preparing for the elections in November. As an important portion of the American voting population, it is vital that those voters living with a disability recognize that their vote is powerful and an important voice.
Voting, as Kay Maxwell defines: “Voting is a process by which a person or group of people expresses an opinion formally or officially”. She continues on to say: “voting usually refers to the act of citizens choosing candidates for public office or deciding on public issues and laws. In the United States, people vote at the local, state, and federal (national) levels”.
Historical Background on the Right to Vote
As a young country with a population of about 4 million people eligible to vote it seems only about .03% or 120,000 actually voted. At that time, voting was restricted to free white males who were property owners and who met particular religious prerequisites.
By the 1860’s voting rights became more extensive with nearly every state allowing all white males, 21 years old or older, voting rights.
At the end of the Civil War the 15th Amendment to the Constitution provided for voting rights for all men regardless of race. It would not be until the passage of the 1965 Voting rights Act that blacks truly gained the right to vote in the South.
After a long political fight in 1920, women won the right to vote with the addition of 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1971 the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 years of age.
It should be explained that prior to the Civil War voting was not private. People would vote by a show of hands or voice their choice out loud. The introduction of print ballots became popular after the war, but these were often in different colors and shapes which signified the different candidates. It was not until the 1890s that use of Australian ballot, where all the candidates were printed on one ballot by the government that voting became truly secret. For those living with disabilities voting rights, sadly, have been slow in coming. As records illustrated on the US Department of Justice website: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) contains provisions relevant to the voting rights of people with
disabilities. The VRA requires election officials to allow a voter who is blind or has another disability to receive assistance from a person of the voter’s choice (other than the voter’s employer or its agent or an officer or agent of voters union). The VRA also prohibits conditioning the right to vote on a citizen being able to read or write, attaining a particular level of education, or passing an interpretation ‘test’ “.
The Voting Accessibility for Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 (VAEHA) was passed. This act required accessible polling places for federal elections for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Additionally, voters are to be provided with alternate means of voting on Election Day.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provided protection for people with disabilities similar to those for individuals based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religious beliefs. The ADA title II requires State and Local governments (public entities) to ensure that people with disabilities have equal and full opportunity to vote. Title II of the ADA applies to all aspects of voting, including voter registration, site selection, and casting of ballots. This applies not only to Election Day, but during any early voting process.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) among other things, the aim is to increase the historically low registration rates among persons with disabilities. The act also provides for public assistance or state-funded programs that primarily serve persons with disabilities to also provide the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires jurisdictions responsible for conducting federal elections to provide at least one accessible voting system for persons with disabilities at each polling place in federal elections. The accessible voting system must provide the same opportunity for access and participation, including privacy and independence that other voters receive.
As of September 15, 2015 polling officials may allow those with a physical disability or a voter over the age of 70 to move to the front of the line at polling places if requested by the voter.
In 2020 Senator Bob Casey (PA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) have introduced the Accessible Voting Act (AVA), meant to address the needs of voters with disabilities and to ensure they have equal access to the vote on Election Day and beyond.
You are Not a Second Class Citizen
On the CDC website it is reported that: “one in 4 U.S. adults-61 million Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities.” Yet according to the website www.aapd.com: “16 million people with disabilities voted in the November 2016 election.” That equates to approximately 26.3% of the American population living with a disability.
Despite all of the history of struggles for equality in voting and the resulting changes, the website governing.com finds: “voting among the disabled is on the decline.” In the face of all the important issues confronting all US voters in the past elections, it is disheartening that voter turnout for those who may be affected the most by many of these issues is on the decline.
What is causing this lack of enthusiasm? There is much speculation as to why voter turnout for the disabled is on the decline. In an article written by Matt Vasilogambros, he has found barriers or lack of accessibility and untrained poll workers are the biggest contributors. Vasilogambros quotes Michelle Bishop, a voting rights advocate, for the Nation Disability Rights Network who reveals: “under increasing pressure to oversee a smooth, secure election, untrained poll workers have discouraged the use of accessible voting machines, leaving voters with disabilities behind.” Bishop also recalls: “in the last election, for example, a voter called her to report that a machine was placed in the corner, turned off, with a flower wreath hung on it.” Bishop was believes: “The message is: You’re not wanted here.”
“A study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), found that nearly two-thirds of the 137 polling places inspected on Election Day 2016 had at least one impediment to people with disabilities. In 2008 presidential election, it was fewer than half. The GAO also reported that State inspectors of voting accessibility had fallen nationally over the same time”, Vasilogambros wrote.
Vasilogambros goes on to disclose that: “Among the infractions: The accessible voting machine wasn’t set up and powered on, the earphones weren’t functioning, the voting system wasn’t wheelchair-accessible, or the voting system didn’t provide the same privacy as standard voting stations.”
The bottom line here is simple, it’s not that complicated. If you’re disabled, you are NOT a second class citizen, it’s time for you to speak up, voting is your right and so many issues apply to you. It is time for you to self-advocate, raise a stink, call your representatives and call the US Department of Justice to demand your rights, if, for any reason, you are unable to vote. Don’t just complain about the system or the people in charge if you’re not willing to do something. Remember so many before you fought for your rights; this year is the thirtieth anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, let the world know, show them what you’re worth, make yourself known, it’s your turn.
AAPD Statistics & Data, Statistics about the disability community as a powerful voting bloc.https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/statistics/
Power: The Disability Vote
The Right to Vote
Register! Educate! Vote! Use your power. The Disability Vote Counts.
The Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Voting Section – Room 7254 NWB
Washington, D.C. 20530
(800) 253-3931 (voice/TTY)
ADA Polling Checklist
Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (August 16, 2018). 1 in 4 US adults live with a disability. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html
Disability Rights and Resources. (2020). The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984. Retrieved from: https://drradvocates.org/voting-accessibility-for-the-elderly-and-handicapped-act/
Maxwell, Kay, J. (2020). Voting in the United States. Retrieved from: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/voting-united-states/
Taylor, Danielle, M. (November 29, 2018). Americans with Disabilities: 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p70-152.html
U,S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section (September 2014). The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm
Vasilogrmbros, Matt. (February 1, 2018). How Voters With Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box. Retrieved from: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/02/01/how-voters-with-disabilities-are-blocked-from-the-ballot-box
Vasilgrmbros, Matt. (2020). Why Is Disabled Voter Turnout on the Decline? Retrieved from: https://www.governing.com/topics/politics/sl-disabled-polls-voters.html