Harnessing Your Power on Election Day

Tired of feeling the economic squeeze when you need access to community services for transportation, attendant care, educational resources, and health care? When federal, state, and local budgets feel the pinch, the services that elected officials cut first affect the community that can least afford the budget slash: people with disabilities. There is one very effective way to fight back: Vote!

People with disabilities hold some important distinctions: we comprise 20% of Americans over the age of 18; we register to vote in the lowest numbers; and among registered voters, we have the lowest numbers for voter turnout. No wonder people with disabilities bear the consequences of the budget axeCwe aren’t getting out to the polls! Elected officials aren’t paying attention because we haven’t mastered the art of making them listen on Election Day.

Important Facts:

There were 6 million votes cast in the State of Florida in November, 2000.

The winner of the 2000 election was determined by a margin of 537 votes in the State of Florida.

If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as the able-bodied, 4 million more votes would have been cast in the 2000 election.

In 2004, there are 271 Republican electoral districts and 260 Democratic electoral districts in the US.

If you thought 2000 was close, the election of 2004 promises to be even closer. There are many in the civil rights arena who feel that the 2004 election will be the most important in our lifetime. Why?

Supreme Court justices (and federal judges) serve for a lifetime. Currently, most Supreme Court decisions are a 5 to 4 margin.

It’s conceivable that 4 of the 9 justices will retire or pass away over the next 4 years.

The next President who appoints Supreme Court justices and federal judges has the capacity to shape Constitutional law and scope for the next generation. That includes legal decisions that expand or limit your civil rights and the interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The answer? Get out and vote on November 2, 2004. If you won’t make it to the polls, contact your registrar of voters ASAP to request an absentee ballot. Only 52% of Americans exercise their franchise to vote. For people with disabilities, the numbers are even lower and we are the largest minority group (40 million voters) in the country! However, when organized and motivated, that figure jumps to over 70% for people with disabilities who turn out to vote.

Want more power with elected officials, regardless of who gets elected? Register other voters and get them to vote!

Elected officials respond to the groups that take the time to register voters in their district. When you want someone to listen to your concerns on an issue, the way to get a response is to communicate that your community registered 500 or 5,000 or 50,000 voters in their municipality, district or state. Not only will they pay attention to you as an organizer, they will consider changing their vote. They want to stay in office. That’s how voting influences the votes of elected officials.

Why is voting important? Because it is a concise way to advocate your position. What are the important issues in your community? Housing? Transportation? Employment? Services targeted to meet the needs of the disability community? These are the reasons why people with disabilities need to vote. It starts at your doorstep. Vote on November 2, Election Day.

Voting ID Tips: Be sure to bring identification when you vote, especially if you are a new registrant. Your ID has to have your name and address on it. Government issued ID, such as a state ID card, driver’s license, utility bills (because they show your name and address), bank correspondence that shows your name and address, or a letter from a government agency that shows your name and address. It can be your phone or electric bill, Section 8 voucher or a letter from the Social Security Administration.

Hassled at the Polls? If you are prevented from voting on Election Day or are being hassled at the polls, call Election Protection at 1-866-Our-Vote (866-687-8683). There are 6,000 attorneys ready to make sure you get to vote on Election Day whoB and are ready to assist you in solving the problem. .

Volunteer to Be a Pollworker. Did you know the age of the average pollworker in the US is 72? Pollworkers volunteers are paid by the county or municipality for the day and the income does not affect your disability income. One of the surest ways to increase disability sensitivity among pollworkers is to volunteer in the electoral process. Contact your county registrar of voters ASAP to volunteer.

Election Day Complaints. The Department of Justice wants to know if there are difficulties at the polls. If you need to make a complaint, clearly describe the situation and include the exact address of the polling place, the name of the pollworker, county and state in which it occurred. You can sent it to John Wodatch, Chief of Disability Rights, DOJ, Civil Rights Division, 950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Suite 4039, Washington, DC 20530, or send an email to john.l.wodatch@usdoj.gov.

Angela Katsakis is the Disability Vote Project Coordinator for the American Association of People with Disabilities. She can be reached at aapdvote@earthlink.net. Please visit our website at www.aapd-dc.org for more information about the Disability Vote Project and AAPD.