Soapbox

Don’t overlook this group of California voters

Voters cast their ballots in San Jose in October 2016. Disability rights advocates say California officials need to do more to encourage disabled people to register and vote.
Voters cast their ballots in San Jose in October 2016. Disability rights advocates say California officials need to do more to encourage disabled people to register and vote. Associated Press

In this contentious political climate, it’s more important than ever to exercise your right to vote – still the most powerful way to make your voice heard and influence policies. But there’s one bloc of voters that election officials and campaigns historically overlook – people with disabilities.

This is National Disability Voter Registration Week, and this month is the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are nearly 30 million people with disabilities eligible to vote, yet they are less likely to register.

Many disabled people don’t realize election equipment and polling places are more accessible than ever, so they can vote privately and independently just like other voters.

State and federal laws require it, and officials go to great lengths prior to Election Day to make sure polling locations are accessible.

In some California counties, poll workers are instructed to offer all voters the option of using the accessible voting system.

Unfortunately, these voting options are not well publicized. County election officials should promote accessibility through social media and other outreach. Even better, counties should have web pages dedicated to people with disabilities.

Election officials should also recruit disabled people as poll workers, since many don’t receive adequate training to work with voters with disabilities and often unintentionally create barriers.

One out of every five people in the U.S. has a disability. If they do not register, they do not vote and if they do not vote, they do not have a say in important public policies that affect their lives.

The 2018 election will be here before we know it. If all of those who are eligible were registered and engaged, who knows how it may turn out?

Paul R. Spencer of San Diego is a staff attorney with Disability Rights California’s voting rights unit. He can be contacted at Paul.Spencer@disabilityrightsca.org.

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