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November 4, 2016Alerts

DRP Opinion Piece on Voting and Voters with Disabilities

For Immediate Release
November 4, 2016

Contact: Peri Jude Radecic
(717) 236-8110, ext. 302

Opinion – Peri Jude Radecic, Chief Executive Officer
Disability Rights Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA.

Modern American democracy is built around the principle that every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to register and cast a ballot. While there are exceptions to this rule, the basic principle that voting is a fundamental right remains.

The biggest threat to our democracy is not voter fraud or rigged elections, it is low voter turnout. When people don’t show up to vote, whether it is because they don’t care, or they don’t have sufficient information, or they have lost trust in the system, or they are scared away by falsehoods and half-truths, we all suffer. Discouraging eligible voters from casting a ballot on Election Day is un-American.

Our democracy is strongest when the highest number of eligible voters vote. As Americans, we should be proud of our system of democracy and should be working to strengthen and modernize that system rather than undermining it with baseless claims of rigged elections. Voting is the best way to hold our elected representatives accountable, and the more eligible voters that cast a ballot, the more accountable our representatives must be to the needs of all of their constituents.

One particular segment of the population that is often overlooked when we are discussing the right to vote is individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities make up 13% of Pennsylvania’s population. Yet there are barriers to voting that can work to disenfranchise our community. As lawyers and advocates for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, we have seen firsthand the importance of ensuring that our interests are understood and served by our elected representatives.

One barrier that can be removed is to change an outdated election system that require voters to register and vote within strict timelines. Over the last thirty years, 41 other states have enacted commonsense reforms to break down some of the barriers to voting. While these reforms impact all voters, they are particularly important for voters with disabilities who may struggle with transportation needs to get to the polls on Election Day. Specifically, voting modernization reforms such as early voting and optional vote-by-mail, would make it easier for individuals with disabilities to cast their ballots. Both of these reforms make it possible to vote prior to Election Day which decreases the likelihood that voters will have to stand in long lines and makes it easier for voters to take all the time needed for them to cast a ballot.

Additionally, optional vote-by-mail would remove the need for those voters with disabilities who may need assistance to get to their polling location to figure out the logistics of securing a ride to the polls.

Just as ensuring that individuals with disabilities are provided with equal opportunities is a bipartisan effort, so too is ensuring that our elections are accessible to all eligible voters. We commend the legislators on both sides of the aisle who have supported voting modernization and look forward to continuing to work with them on these important reforms.