“The ticking time bomb” of political power

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on August 23, 2016

If there ever was a year when people with disabilities should make every effort to vote, this is the year. In my own long and clouded memory, this is the first time that disability is even on the political radar. From Donald Trump’s seemingly spontaneous mockery of a disabled reporter to Anastasia Somoza, a person with CP who also has a twin sister with CP, and her stirring speech at the Democratic Convention, a little light has been shown on a population too often missing from any political conversation, even those dealing with diversity. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, there are more people with disabilities running for office. Besides Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee, running for the Senate in Illinois, there is another double-amputee war veteran, Brian Mast, running for Congress in Florida, and certainly others. A man paralyzed from an auto accident and now running for the state assembly in Wisconsin, Jimmy Anderson, was mocked in an opponent’s ad for “not standing up” to the governor. In the rat race of American politics, when they start making fun of your disability, you are probably doing something right.

Do people with disabilities vote, and if not, why not? This is not just an idle question. According to a recent article by Rabia Belt, a Stanford law professor and expert in the area of voting and disability, the disability vote is “the ticking time bomb of the electorate.” This is a voting bloc growing bigger by the day. In the next 25 years, says Professor Belt, up to 35% of eligible voters “will need some type of accommodation to cast a ballot.” That’s one out of three voters. That’s major.

At this point, voters with disabilities don’t turn out with decidedly less frequency of those without disabilities. In the last presidential election, 56.8% of eligible voters with disabilities voted versus 62.5% of all other voters. That’s a 5.7% difference. Doesn’t sound like much until you do a little math. If there are, say, 35 million potential voters with disabilities – the going figure -- the 5.7% who don’t vote total two million. What if 70% of the disability vote turned out? That would be a force of 25 million votes!

Some eligible voters with disabilities don’t vote because, like a huge swath of America, they don’t care. But for many if not most others, real obstacles get in their way. Every step of the process is ancient and disability-unfriendly. You have to roll down to the local high school gym to vote and for many, it’s hard to get there and the place is inaccessible when you do arrive. I can buy a house online without ever leaving my computer or smart phone, but I can’t vote with the same ease. This strikes me as ludicrous. The ID problem could be solved with a digital thumb print. This is a cake walk for the brainiacs of Silicon Valley.

Mail-in ballots are an option and there is even drive-through voting where you stay in your car and they bring the ballot to you, but neither is as worry free as something electronic. And as Professor Belt discusses at length, just registering to vote can be as difficult and disheartening to voters with disabilities as the actual punching out of the chad. In most states, you have to find, fill out, and submit paper registration forms. If your state allows you to register electronically, she goes on, the process is rarely adapted to fit the screen readers many people with disabilities use.

At least with this part of the voting process, help may be on its way. The key is automatic registration, meaning whenever you go to the DMV or a Social Security office or any other government public-assistant agency, you can be automatically registered to vote. No complicated forms, no gas bills, nothing. There is currently legislation pending in Congress that would make automatic registration the law. If enacted, this could add millions to the voting rolls, including millions of voters with disabilities.

But that hasn’t happened yet and there is still a historically important election coming up in about 80 days. If you want to go the mail-in route, arrange to get your ballot right now and vote early. If you are worried about getting to or inside of your voting station, call the local registrar’s office or the campaign headquarters of your favorite candidate or party. Enlist the assistance of a friend, your own personal voting consultant. The earlier you start the process, the more time you will have to overcome the inevitable obstacles in your way and as Ted Cruz says, “vote your conscience.”

Finally the National Disability Rights Network – and probably other advocacy groups as well – is set up to help you in myriad ways with any voting problem you might encounter. Go to www.ndrn.org for more information.If your answer to all of this is, “Why vote? The system is rigged,” then it will stay rigged and you will stay cynical and powerless. Wouldn’t you like to see the day when voters with disabilities get as much attention and pandering to as the NRA or Wall Street? If enough of us get to the polls, that day is coming on fast.

Ref: “Removing Barriers To Voting For Americans with Disabilities Through Automatic Registration,” Rabia Belt, Huffington Post, 8/4/16