It’s election season. You may have noticed. Or how could you not notice?
The mid-term elections-the national election between Presidential elections historically have lower turnout than the Presidential election years. 34 US Senate seats are up for election as are 34 governor’s seats and all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives. Over 75% of state legislative seats are also up for re-election as well as other state and local offices, including judgeships in some states, too numerous to count. It is a busy time in US politics.
So why should this matter to people with disabilities and their families? I hope to persuade you that it matters a lot. First of all, voting is a right of citizenship that is a core of our democracy. While big campaign donors and political action committees (PACs) have a lot of influence in our politics, at the end of the day it comes down to you the individual voter. If we want our elected officials to be responsive to the rights and needs of people with disabilities and their families, we need to vote in large numbers. Not voting means you can readily be ignored, and people with disabilities as a group are too important to be ignored! Care about SSI, employment discrimination, accessible housing, Medicaid, Special Education? Don’t vote and these things can be weakened or damaged.
What about people with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities and people who have guardians? Can they vote? “Under federal law, a person cannot be barred from voting because of “incompetence” except in very limited circumstances. As a rule, if a person is competent enough to go to the polls and vote, or to complete an absentee ballot, federal law requires that the person be allowed to vote “ (http://www.bazelon.org/our-work/voting/ . Yet every election season we hear of instances where people with disabilities are prevented from voting. The Bazelon Center’s website has excellent resources about people with disabilities and voting. There are also resources about physical accessibility and other ways to vote.
Not registered to vote? In many states it is not too late to register. Go to https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote to find out for your state.
Want to go to a regular school? Want specialized services to help you or someone you care about be included in their community? Then vote. Want to be ignored or even worse? Then don’t.
There are many ways to get involved. Some are a simple as looking at a candidate’s position statements on their website. Do you agree with them? Do they talk about issues that are important to you? Another way is to invite all candidates for particular office to your synagogue or other non-profit group and hold a candidate’s forum. So long as you invite all candidates for that office this is allowed. You can also develop a list of questions with your organization and send them to all candidates. Some will answer, and some will not. That will tell you something.
You can also readily be involved with national groups. The REV UP! Campaign of the American Association of People with Disabilities https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/, allows you to be as vocal as you like, and has a great deal of information on everything from polling place accessibility to issues that directly impact people with disabilities. They have an active listserve and you can sign up to stay informed. They also have clear summaries of issues important to people with disabilities.
Notice I have said nothing about who you should vote for! It is not my place here to do so. But not voting means you can be ignored and who among us wants to be ignored?
Steven Eidelman is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership at The University of Delaware and the faculty director of The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities. He has worked for the last 35 years to help people with disabilities lead full lives in the community.