2020 Election: Perspective from a “High Risk” Voter with a DisabilityShare this page
ANCOR is sharing this article in Teen Vogue by Alice Wong, a well-known disability advocate, because it highlights issues relevant to the people supported by our community, such as vote-by-mail and access to equipment.
“Inaccessibility is a form of voter suppression. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 in July, and the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002, but access to voting is still a huge problem, even more so during a pandemic and with a president who openly undermines voting rights. Here are a few barriers disabled people currently face with the upcoming election:
- Hundreds of thousands of older and disabled people living in institutions such as nursing homes may not be able to cast their ballots due to limited resources and reduced access to these facilities because of COVID-19.
- Voting by mail may be considered a safe and convenient way to vote to lower exposure to COVID-19, but this is an inaccessible practice for people with print-related disabilities. Each person should be able to vote privately and independently. After a lawsuit by voters with disabilities and other advocacy groups, Virginia recently agreed to provide accessible voting by mail.
- Some state websites for elections and voting remain inaccessible, and it can be difficult for voters to request ballots in accessible formats such as Braille or large print, as Disability Rights Idaho wrote in a recent letter to the state legislature.
- People most at risk of dying from COVID-19 may be barred from voting by mail in some states. After a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, ACLU of Mississippi, and Mississippi Center for Justice, the state of Mississippi allowed high-risk people to request mail-in ballots. But on September 8, the state appealed the ruling, saying that people with preexisting conditions that the state does not deem physical disabilities should have to vote in person.
- Nationwide, some polling places are physically inaccessible and/or staffed with poll workers who are unfamiliar with accessible voting. On the flip side, the ADA has seemingly been weaponized in states like Georgia, which proposed closing polling sites in a majority-Black county because those sites were allegedly not ADA compliant. Disabled people aren’t pawns to be used by elected officials to steal elections, and this ableist and racist tactic disproportionately harms Black disabled people. For more, check out this report from the National Disability Rights Network, “Blocking the Ballot Box: Ending the Misuse of the ADA to Close Polling Places.”
As Michelle Bishop, disability voting rights specialist with the National Disability Rights Network, put it, ‘We don’t make polling places accessible by closing them. We make them accessible by making them accessible.’
- People with psychiatric and other disabilities may be barred from voting because they are deemed “incompetent” or are under guardianship, policies that impact thousands of people. Some disabled people under guardianship can petition the court to have their rights returned to them, as in the case of the late David Rector, in 2016. For more, check out the resources from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
Voting isn’t the only way to support our democracy, but I vote with the understanding that all individuals, policies, and systems are inherently flawed. After witnessing local mutual aid efforts and #BlackLivesMatter uprisings everywhere, I see change happening, and that gives me hope. As I write this under a smoky, orange sky in San Francisco, with no plans to leave my home until 2021, I know why I’m voting. But each person needs to find their own reasons.”