Laws affecting voter participation are a current hot topic in the news. Voter identification, early voting, or redistricting laws are all working their way through the legal system almost certainly on their way to the Supreme Court (if they have not reached the high court already). There are mixed opinions on what these laws do. Supporters insist that the laws protect the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. Opponents vehemently argue that the laws are simply pretense for stopping poor and minority voters from exercising their rights at the polls. However, one group of minority voters, voters with disabilities, are severely impacted by election administration laws regarding the accessibility of elections. Their story has been largely ignored in the sound-byte thrusts and parries of the politicos and pundits.
In today’s political discourse, people seem to care more about the Democrat-Republican horserace for control of Congress. But denying voters with disabilities an equal opportunity to vote, denies these voters an opportunity to influence public discourse on the important issues that too often fall by the wayside – especially issues that people with disabilities have a particular interest in, such as transportation subsidies or Medicaid funding. While laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) attempt to address the problem of increasing access to polls, there is still much that needs to be done. Luckily there are several simple steps that can be taken to help re-enfranchise people with disabilities.
One way to increase participation by voters with disabilities would be to dismantle or loosen voter identification laws. The strictest voter identification laws require state or federal government issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license, passport, or valid (unexpired) military ID. However, the biggest population of people without a driver’s licenses is people with disabilities. Other commentators have outlined, in great detail, the impact voter ID laws have on voter turnout. But the discussion is usually focused on the elderly or minority voters. People with disabilities make up a significant (and inter-demographic) segment of the population and should not be ignored in discussions about voter access laws – if people with disabilities, who represent 1 in 7 voting-age people, voted at the same rate as voters without disabilities, there could be as many as three million more voters.