Letter: The forgotten voter
The word “inclusion” gets a lot of attention these days. As a city clerk, it is my responsibility to make sure that every qualified voter has the opportunity to vote without barriers or obstructions. In preparation for a recent class that I taught at the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks Conference, I came across some troubling statistics in relation to disabled voters.
A 2016 study conducted by Rutgers University reports that the voter turnout of those with a disability was 6.3 percent lower than for people without disabilities. The report also states that they estimate that if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as those without disabilities, there would be an additional 2.2 million voters. Let that number sink in.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 5 adults or over 53 million people in the United States have a disability of one form or another. Note that this particular report did not include those with hearing impairments. This means that these numbers are actually much higher.
I reached out to friends and acquaintances with disabilities and asked what frustrations they have with the voting process. I heard the following: the Americans with Disabilities Act machines are not reliable (we now have new equipment). Candidates and candidate forums ignore the deaf community and fail to provide interpreters at their events. Standing in line is difficult for those suffering with neuropathy. Crowds cause increased anxiety for those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ballot proposals are difficult to comprehend. One stated that he quit going to the precinct because he felt that his disability made the workers uncomfortable. Websites are not ADA accessible, making it difficult to find information.
The following statement was said at a diversity and inclusion breakfast I recently attended, “Inclusion is not about counting people, it is about making sure people know that they count.” Inclusion is about a disabled voter feeling confident that their role in the process is equal to those without a disability. Inclusion should result in increased participation. Inclusion means that we have to remove any barriers and provide access. Inclusion means that we have to be deliberate about promoting the voting options to those with disabilities.
I challenged the clerks across Michigan to be intentional about their efforts to make sure that we are doing all that we can do to provide an inclusive environment and voting experience for those with a disability. I challenged them to consider what other secretaries of state across the country are doing – providing curbside voting to veterans with PTSD, creating ADA accessible election portals on their websites, pursuing the hiring of individuals with disabilities to work at the polls. I challenged them to build community partnerships with organizations that advocate for those with disabilities. I challenged them to do better.
Every voter matters. Every vote counts.
Tina Barton, Rochester Hills City Clerk