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

Disability Voting Rights

Action Alert: Tell Your of State to Support Use of HAVA Funds for Election Accessibility

Recently, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission secured over $380 million in grants to improve election accessibility and security following the 2016 election. These grants were provided under Section 101 of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which explicitly talks about using funds to make voting more accessible. You can find your state’s grant amount at the Election Assistance Commission website. Each state will have federal funds along with state-granted five percent matching funds to make security updates and accessibility updates can include buying new election infrastructure, making election websites more accessible, or beta testing new election equipment.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingDue to concerns about hacking, there may be a significant push for these funds to be used entirely for security purposes and to focus less on accessibility. However, inaccessibility is still a major barrier to voting for people with disabilities, and a 2012 report by Rutgers University found that over 30 percent of people with disabilities experienced at least one difficulty in casting their ballots, as compared to only 8.5 percent of people without disabilities. Therefore, Secretaries of State need input and advocacy from the disability community to inform them that accessibility is a priority and still a significant need in election systems across the country. We ask you to call your Secretary of State and advocate for these grant funds to be used on election accessibility, including election website accessibility, buying new election infrastructure, and beta testing new accessible election technology.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah Blahovec at sarah@ncil.org or 202-207-0334 ext. 1103.

Action Alert: Plan for National Disability Voter Registration Week

Since 2016, the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) have worked in partnership on the REV UP Campaign to increase the political participation of people with disabilities.

The REV UP Campaign, launched by AAPD in 2016, is a nonpartisan initiative that coordinates with national, state, and local disability organizations to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. The Campaign focuses on voter registration, education, access, and engagement. REV UP stands for Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!

Today, NCIL and AAPD are reaching out to invite Centers for Independent Living to participate in National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) this year from July 16-20, 2018 to get more people with disabilities registered to vote and engaged in the political process in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

The REV UP Campaign developed a National Disability Voter Registration Week Toolkit to help organizations and advocates plan their involvement in NDVRW.  [Read more…]

Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff

Although one in six voters has a disability, the disability community is often not recognized as an engaged voting constituency. Citizens with disabilities want to be engaged in the voting process; they want to learn about candidates, show up at the polls, and engage in campaigns. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to civic engagement for people with disabilities. Some of these barriers, such as impediments to voting accessibility, are issues that disability advocacy organizations and the government study and work to improve continuously. However, there’s very little information and few resources available to campaigns related to accessibility and voters with disabilities.

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingCampaigns are essential components of civic engagement. They are where prospective voters can meet candidates, learn about what problems and solutions are being discussed in their communities, and form opinions that will influence their vote. Campaigns must connect with their communities and learn about their interests so that they can understand their voters’ needs. If a campaign isn’t accessible, they aren’t able to connect with their community fully, and many prospective voters with disabilities can experience barriers to learning about or participating in a campaign. Furthermore, campaigns are often powered by volunteers, and if they aren’t accessible, they’re both cutting off essential help and creating barriers to civic participation for people with disabilities who wish to be involved in the political process. It is up to campaigns to make sure that their information and events are accessible to voters with disabilities, and that they are reaching out to the disability community to actively include them.

To assist political campaigns with understanding the access needs, potential barriers, and interests of the disability community, the National Council on Independent Living has created “Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff.” This guide is a basic resource that campaigns at the local, state, and national levels can use to learn how they can become accessible not only to voters with disabilities, but also to people who want to volunteer with the campaign. It addresses the basics of understanding people with disabilities as a voting bloc; different types of potential accommodations for people with different disabilities; making your campaign website, materials, and events accessible; integrating disability into your policy platform; and including volunteers with disabilities in your campaign.

Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff:

This guide is a first step to making your campaign accessible, and although we strive to make it as inclusive and thorough as possible, it is not intended to be the one and only way to make your campaign accessible. Also note that accessibility is not a one-time fix, but something that must be continuously considered and integrated to be successful. It is essential for campaigns to reach out to people with disabilities in their community and learn about their interests and needs as voters and volunteers. If you have any questions about this guide, please contact Sarah Blahovec, Disability Vote Organizer, at sarah@ncil.org.

2018 Midterm Election, Step One: The Primaries

An Update from the NCIL Voting Rights Subcommittee

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingNow that we’re on our way into 2018, mainstream media is focusing intensely on the 2018 midterm elections, and voting rights organizations across the country are buzzing about the importance of showing up to the polls in November. However, civic participation isn’t just a once-every-other-November event; unfortunately, many Americans don’t understand that they can and should engage in voting-related activities prior to November elections. Furthermore, many people focus solely on the national-level election and don’t pay attention to local and state elections. Here are four ways you or your organization can become informed about civic participation outside of the November general election.

1. Learn about your state’s primary elections. Primary elections are elections held before the fall general election, and they tend to have lower turnout than general elections. These elections vary state-to-state in how they operate, but they help to narrow down the list of candidates that will appear on the ballot in the November general election for each party. Some of these primaries are “closed,” meaning that voters can only participate if they have declared a party affiliation, and they can only vote for the parties with which they are affiliated. In open primaries, voters do not have to declare a party affiliation. To find out more about your state’s primaries, how they operate, and when they will be held, visit the National Conference of State Legislators[Read more…]

Pew Charitable Trusts Reports on Guardianship and Voter Disenfranchisement

On March 21, 2018, Pew Charitable Trusts published an in-depth article on the issue of voting rights for people with disabilities under guardianship laws. According to the article, 1.5 million people are under guardianship nationwide, and in 39 states and Washington, D.C., laws allow judges to strip voting rights from those who are determined to be “incapacitated” or “incompetent.” However, there is no set standard to determine who can vote and who is deemed unable to do so. This article discusses the disenfranchisement of these citizens and efforts to create clear standards and restore voting rights to thousands of people with disabilities who understand and wish to participate in the voting process.  A circular button that says "VOTE" and has red and blue stripes with white stars

Pew Charitable Trusts Covers Voter Access for People with Disabilities

Kathy Hoell sits in her wheelchair in front of a cameraman. A woman walks to her right.In a February article entitled “How Voters with Disabilities are Blocked From the Ballot Box,” Pew Charitable Trusts interviewed several NCIL Voting Rights Subcommittee members about accessibility at the polls for people with disabilities, including Kathy Hoell, cochair of the subcommittee, and Michelle Bishop, Voting Rights Advocate at National Disability Rights Network. The piece discusses many of the common barriers to voting for people with disabilities, including poll worker training, physical accessibility, and problems with the setup of the accessible machine. It also profiles West Virginia’s challenge with the gap between voters with and without disabilities, and Colorado’s successes in voting access. Thank you to Michelle and Kathy for their continued voting rights advocacy!