Voters with disabilities who need rides to the polls Nov. 6 will be able to access services in the Twin Cities area, thanks to the Rides to the Polls Coalition. The program’s phone lines opened for business Sept. 24. Anyone needing a ride or wishing to volunteer as a driver can call 1-855-50-RIDES or 1-800-507-4337, or emailing [email protected]
The rides are free and accessible for all, including those who use wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. Drivers are trained volunteers. Rides are available from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 6 and must be scheduled in advance. Schedule early as the service is limited and may fill up quickly.
Rides to the polls are also available in some regions of Greater Minnesota. In the Rochester area, call John Jacobson at 507-251-2841. In St. Cloud and Central Minnesota, call Independent Lifestyles, A Center for Independent Living, Sauk Rapids, at 320-529-9000. Voters can call now to schedule a ride.
In other areas voters may have to rely on existing paratransit services or find rides with friends. Low participation, rising fuel costs and lack of volunteers has put an end to some ride programs.
Rides to the Polls began in the Twin Cities in 2008. The campaign was organized to provide people living in the Twin Cities metro area with free and accessible rides to and from their poll on Election Day. The campaign and its many volunteer drivers have provided almost 400 Minnesota voters with rides to their polling place since 2008. People who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to vote and make their voice heard were able to do so, to exercise one of the most important rights and responsibilities citizens have.
A training program is available for those who provide rides to the polls, said Christian Knights of Courage Center. Drivers will be offered refreshments during the day. Volunteers need to be able to drive and operate cars and accessible vehicles, and to volunteer in a nonpartisan manner. Drivers four years ago gave the program high marks, saying it was well-organized and fun to participate in.
Driving shifts are 3.5 hours and may require travel throughout the metro area. Volunteers may sign up for more than one shift. For more information and to volunteer to provide rides to the polls on November 6, sign up online at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/YFJVTTV. Prospective volunteers may also call or email with questions: 763-520-0725 or [email protected]
Rides make a difference, said Michelle Gray of the Brain Injury Alliance. She quotes past ride participants. One voter said, “Thank you for your service today. I had a stroke and this was the only way I could vote.” Another noted, “I would not have been able to vote had it not been for this opportunity.” Another voter had tears in her eyes, telling her driver “People just aren’t this kind. Thank you.”
A Rutgers University study indicates that 14.7 million people with disabilities voted in the 2008 presidential election. The voter turnout rate for people with disabilities was 7 percent lower than the rate for people without disabilities.
One striking point in the Rutgers study is that among people who were registered to vote but did not do so, about 44 percent said that disability or illness prevented them from voting. That is compared to 9.6 percent of voters without disabilities. Of those with disabilities who didn’t vote, 7 percent said that transportation problems kept them from voting.
Other voter resources
Voters with disabilities can also vote in person at county offices prior to the election, by filing an absentee ballot, or can apply for and mail in absentee ballots. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office has a voting and elections tab. Use it to find where to vote and how to absentee vote, at www.sos.state.mn.us or www.mnvotes.org Or call 651-201-1339 with voting questions.
Another great resource for voters, provided by a coalition of disability service organizations, is on the Minnesota Disability Law Center website, at www.mylegalaid.org/mdlc Click on the “disability law” tab and find the line for “voting issues.” Click on that link for lots of useful information on voting, including news articles and a one-page sheet headlined “Helpful Info for Voters with Disabilities.” This fact sheet may be printed out and taken to the polls. It offers useful information on how to deal with guardianship questions, issues of polling place accessibility, same-day voter registration and how to vote as a registered voter.
In the August issue, Access Press published detailed information on voting, including how to seek assistance and how to vote absentee. Absentee or early voting may be a good idea for people with disabilities who don’t want to wait in long lines. That article can be found at www.testing.accesspress.org/2012/08/be-a-prepared-primary-election-voter/
As for guardianship questions, those can also be answered by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, at www.sos.state.mn.us/index.aspx?page=1612
Voters with disabilities should remember that in Minnesota, only a court may decide whether an individual is competent to vote. No one else may make this decision, including spouses, children, caregivers, doctors, or nurses, even if they personally are convinced that the individual is not competent to vote.
Individuals who are under guardianship, conservatorship or for whom someone else has power of attorney retain their right to vote unless it is specifically revoked by a court. This is explained in state statue.
All voters are entitled to assistance to cast their ballots, by a person the voter brings to the polls or with help from two election judges from different political parties. Voters should ask the head judge for assistance in having the judges assigned. The head judge can also assist with curbside voting, by having a ballot brought to a motor vehicle.
Under Minnesota law, voters may receive assistance in marking their ballots by any person of their choosing—other than an agent of their employer, their union or a candidate. No person may assist more than three voters in marking their ballots. Alternatively, voters may choose use the AutoMARK ballot-marking device found in each polling place.
Persons assisting voters may not in any way try to influence the voter’s choices. Influencing a voter is a felony in Minnesota.
Persons assisting voters must not mark the ballot if the voter cannot communicate his or her intent. It is not enough to “know” how the voter wants or might want to vote. The voter must be able to express their preference and direct the person providing assistance to mark their ballot. If the voter cannot communicate his or her intent in a way in which the assistant can understand, the assistant must not mark the ballot—doing otherwise is a gross misdemeanor.
Anyone with election questions can contact the Minnesota Disability Law Center Voter Hotline at 612-334-5970 or 1-800-292-4150 or TDD/TTY: 612-332-4668. Another resource is Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683). Emails can go to [email protected]