Justin Dart throughout his life had a one-liner to cover the issue of voting: “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.”
Access to voting is getting a lot of attention in this presidential election because of the debacle of the 2000 election, especially in Florida. After the 2000 election, Congress passed legislation, signed into law by President George W. Bush at the end of 2002, called the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The intent of this legislation is to make voting accessible to citizens who have been under-represented and disenfranchised by the election process in the past. Such citizens include: persons of color, low income families, single parent families, new citizens to this country, seniors, and persons with disabilities.
HAVA provided funding to make the process of voting more accessible, particularly to persons with disabilities. Money is being dispersed to each state to procure voting equipment that will be accessible to persons with disabilities and also to ensure that polling places are accessible. Additionally the federally funded Protection and Advocacy organization in each state has gotten funding grants to help with the process of educating potential voters with disabilities to the process, assisting them in registering to vote, and helping to ensure that polling places will be accessible. Minnesota Disability Law Center, MDLC, is the Protection and Advocacy program for this state.
With MDLC’s HAVA funding, Kathy Hagen will be assigned as the attorney to the project at 20 percent of her time. Also, the MDLC is hiring a full-time staff person to do outreach and education throughout the state. The MDLC has already participated in the last two years in the advisory committee appointed by the Office of the Secretary of State, and is currently participating in another committee appointed by that office which will be assessing various kinds of voting equipment to determine what will work best in the state of Minnesota.
The MDLC will be putting out a fact sheet about the voting process and will assist any person with a disability to fill out a voter registration. Our efforts are geared at nonpartisan activities. In other words, it won’t matter what party a potential voter belongs to. Our interest is in making the voting process accessible to persons with disabilities. The MDLC will collaborate with other organizations in providing training and education to consumers about the voting process, surveying polling places for accessibility, and providing assistance by telephone to anyone who runs into difficulties on the day of election.
Minnesota already has an administrative procedure in place whereby persons can file complaints if they feel that they were incorrectly declared ineligible or had problems in the voting process. The MDLC will provide advocacy and assistance to people who run into difficulties with the voting process and want to file a complaint.
In addition to the work that the MDLC is doing, the State Council on Disability is spear-heading a process whereby various nonprofit consumer and advocacy disability-related organizations will collaborate to assist as many persons with disabilities as possible to learn about the voting process, to get registered to vote, and to get to their polling places on election day. Each nonprofit has limited resources to use in this process, so the hope is to combine resources to bring about the best results and to bring the most persons with disabilities to the polls.
If you want to volunteer your time, either as an individual or as a nonprofit organization to this effort, contact Margot Imdieke Cross at the State Council on Disability, Phone: (651) 296-6785, (V/TTY); Toll-Free: 1-800-945-8913 (V/TTY); E-Mail: [email protected].
To date, people with disabilities have been vastly under-represented in the voting process. There are too many issues of importance to persons with disabilities to let this trend continue. Please take advantage of the opportunities that will be made available to you in the next few months to get educated about the voting process, to find out about the issues, to determine which candidates support your views, to volunteer in the process of educating and registering persons with disabilities to vote, and ultimately to vote in the primaries and the election in November.