Monday, April 11, 2016

Disabled citizens can be pushed out -- or pulled in -- to the polls


Many states governed by Republican majorities have implemented electoral administration laws that make it harder for poor people and people of color to vote. We tend to picture long lines created by too few and poorly staffed voting locations as well as various demands for forms of identification that some citizens can't produce.

We might not have thought so much about how these impediments fall on citizens with various disabilities. According to a paper prepared for a Presidential Commission on Election Administration:

There are at least 35 million voting-age people with disabilities in the United States, representing 1 out of 7 voting-age people, and the number is likely to grow with the aging of the population. People with disabilities have lower voter turnout than people without disabilities. ... the adjusted disability gap [fall off from levels among similar able bodied people] is close to 12 points in each year.

Broken down by major type of disability, the turnout was lower in 2012 among people with visual, mobility, and cognitive impairments, but people with hearing impairments were as likely as people without disabilities to vote. Turnout was also low among those who reported difficulty going outside alone, or difficulty with daily activities inside the home. The disability voting gap is due in part to lower voter registration, but is due more to a lower likelihood of voting if registered. ...

Given the number of people with disabilities in the United States, these results imply that there would be 3.0 million more voters with disabilities if they voted at the same rate as otherwise-similar people without disabilities. ...

So what sort of restrictions prevent disabled adults from voting? Not surprisingly, demanding a driver's license leaves a lot of people out. Alternative forms of ID usually cost money and/or visits to distant government offices. Disabled people are more likely than the able-bodied to be unemployed or just poor, so costly administrative hoops make for a greater burden. So does requiring travel to a distant polling place or requiring a wait in line. And then, for some, there's the issue of simply getting in the door, as illustrated by the photo above from the Justice Department Civil Rights division.

In truth, there is not much data about what measures would help make it easier for disabled citizens to vote. According to advocate Susan Mizner of the ACLU:

"People with disabilities are just left off the studies," often due to simple barriers to accessibility, Mizner told Vox. For example, she said she’s unaware of a voter access or opinion survey that includes deaf voters, who need to be accessed via TTY or video-conferencing services.

Without this information, it’s difficult for disability rights organizations to compile the necessary evidence to develop a unified strategy (like a class-action suit) to challenge barriers to electoral participation.

It doesn't have to be this way.

According to Nicole Kief, also of the ACLU, Rhode Island

is the first state to say, in writing, that voters with disabilities must have full and equal access to online voter registration. ...

People who are blind or low-vision, people who can’t use a mouse or keyboard, and people with cognitive or learning disabilities would all have trouble using a website that was not set up to be accessible. ...

[The state has written new rules.]

  • Experts on disability access to websites must be included in the development of the site and must verify that the site is useable for people with disabilities before it is made public.
  • The site must follow certain accessibility standards set by the by the World Wide Web Consortium (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 compliance level AA for you tech geeks).
  • The site must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires all state and local governments to provide equal access to government programs and communications with the public.

All states should be emulating what Rhode Island has done here -- California's online registration form is the only other state that currently meets these standards.

The Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights section publishes an exhaustive checklist for how to make voting locations compliant with the American Disability Act. Now it is just a matter of getting thousands of local governments in 50 states to comply with the requirements. Failure to comply amounts to pervasive vote suppression.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

The best bet for someone disabled, if they aren't fortunate to live in a state like Oregon which is vote for mail, is to request absentee ballots. My mother was legally blind and she did that. It gave her lots of time to read it all with her magnifying glass and to mail it well ahead of the actual day. We have used them when we wouldn't be in Oregon for the time to get our mailed ballot for sure.

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