Disenfranchise the Disabled?
by Don C. Reed
In the ancient torture, the death of a thousand cuts, the first slash was across the eyes, so the sufferer was blind and could not see what was coming next.
Across the country, voters with a disability are being disenfranchised — having their rights to vote systematically cut away.
Hundreds of election-suppression bills are being rushed into law; many would deny or discourage voting by the disability community. Its effect, intended or not, is the reduction of a disabled person’s right to vote.
Do I exaggerate?
“More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.” (1)
Many would severely afflict voters with a disability. We will get to that in a moment.
But first, why so many new laws?
To prevent mass voter fraud, Republicans respond.
However, as numerous studies make abundantly clear, mass voter fraud is a crime which basically does not exist. (2)
Consider: between the years 2000 and 2014, approximately one billion votes were cast. Among those billion votes, 31 cases of “impersonation fraud” were found. Thirty-one — out of a billion? Most of those, when investigated, were found to be simple mistakes. By no stretch of the imagination is this mass voter fraud. (3)
A major study of the 2016 Presidential election found exactly four documented cases of voter fraud. Four? (4)
Again: why so many Republican-sponsored attempts to reduce voting?
The answer may be simple — voters with a disability tend to vote Democratic.
In the Presidential elections of 2016, for instance, “41% of voters with a disability identified themselves as Democrats, compared with 31% Republicans, and 21% Independents.” (5)
Such preference is not new. In 2000, a New Mexico study of voters with a disability found 52% self-identified as Democrats, and only 23% Republican. (6)
How many such voters are we talking about? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the disability community is huge, as high as one American in four, 26%. (7)
In 2020, turnout for voters with disabilities was 17.7 million, more than a million voters higher than in 2016 ( 16 million). Why the difference? For the 2020 election, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, measures were taken to make voting easier for everyone — which benefited voters with disabilities. (8)
The biggest improvement was the increase in mail-in ballots. Voting from the comfort of home is easier for everyone, but it can be crucial for folks with a disability. Some states (like California) sent paper ballots to everyone registered.
And now such rights may be taken away?
The Republican approach appears to be to make voting difficult in every way.
For instance, suppose you are paralyzed, and you have an attendant. With his/her help, you fill out your ballot. Your attendant walks to the nearest drop box, sticks the ballot in the slot — and gets arrested?
Several new laws prohibit assistance by an attendant, making it a crime for an attendant even to stick the disabled citizen’s ballot into the drop box.
Another law would deny the drop boxes altogether, or make them so few (perhaps just one per county) as to almost not matter. (9)
And remember those long lines in Georgia? They will be longer, if the voting “season” is made shorter. Also, no matter how hot and humid the weather may be, it will be a crime to share a piece of pizza or a bottle of water. (10)
One seemingly harmless way to deny a person’s vote is to insist on government-issue photo ID — typically a driver’s license. But what if the voter is among America’s one million blind persons, and cannot drive?
Or, what if materials are required that you do not possess, like a birth certificate? Do you know where your birth certificate is right now? If you were born at home, which many low-income people are, you may not have a birth certificate at all.
According to the League of Women Voters, as many as eleven per cent of America’s voters (20 million!) do not have a government-issue photo ID. (11)
Why not just drive to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and get a license? Consider:
What if you don’t have a car? What if you work two jobs and can’t afford to lose a day’s pay? Or what if (as in some parts of Texas) the nearest DMV is a three-hour drive? What about the gas for that six-hour round trip? If you are poor, that must be considered.
In close races, the disability vote may decide the outcome. Right now, for example, six Senate races are very close, true “swing states”: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Those six state races may decide who controls the United States Senate.
Which side will Americans with a disability support, assuming they can fight their way through all the obstacles placed before them?
One party is passing laws to make it more difficult to vote. (11) The other is working to protect voting rights for all, with bills such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. (12)
Which side will you choose?
Voters with a disability must not be disenfranchised.
Patient advocate Don C. Reed is the author of “STEM CELL BATTLES” and other books. The views expressed are his own, and not representative of any group.