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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

An Update from the NCIL Voting Rights Subcommittee

In order for people with disabilities to be seen as an important voting bloc, we need to do three things:

  1. We all have to be like old-fashioned “block captains”. We need to deliver voters to the polls. As advocates, it’s not enough for us to individually register and vote, we need to take responsibility and be sure that everyone we know who shares our independent living values is registered and votes.
  2. It is essential that this be done in primary elections. The voter participation rate of people with disabilities has been increasing in general election. Regretfully, our voter participation rate in primaries is dismal and in some cases worse than the general public. Primary elections set the agenda that will be debated in the general election. The tea party is a clear example of the importance of primary elections. A relatively small number of committed and organized voters defeated incumbents in primary elections. This got the attention of candidates across the nation and changed our public debate. There is a strategic advantage for an organized bloc of voters in primary elections: it takes very few votes to win a primary and many more to win a general election. Go to your local election office website and look at the past few elections’ notes and see how few votes it took to win the primary. Every election campaign begins by looking at the regular primary voters – these are the voters that the candidates court, speak to, and listen to.
  3. People with disabilities should run for public office. We often say “nothing about us without us”, yet as a community we don’t carry this forward to elections. Candidates form coalitions of voters so they can win a primary election. We form coalitions all the time, but it is only to support or oppose legislative or regulatory changes. Why are we not forming coalitions to elect: articulate, bright, and committed advocates to town and city councils, state legislatures and executive office? What better way is there to be at the table then as an elected official? Running for office is a complex process, but there is an easy way to learn what campaigns are like from the inside – volunteer for the candidate of your choice. Nonprofit employees can volunteer for candidates and run for office if they do it on their own time. George Holman is the Executive Director of the Rockland County Independent Living Center in New York State. But, he is also an elected member of the Rockland Town Council. From this vantage point, he has been able to move the disability agenda in major ways in the community he lives in.

There is power in voting and by doing these 3 things you can influence how we are seen and live. If you want to learn more about getting out the vote, please attend the Voting Rights Subcommittee’s presentation at NCIL’s 2015 Annual Conference on Independent Living.

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