(Photo by Flickr user Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license.)
Here in the United States, we are in the midst of a midterm election cycle, and given that campaigning for Presidential elections basically starts two years in advance, we are about to start ramping up for the 2012 Presidential election, which looks like it is going to be a doozy.
I have voted in every single US election since I reached the age for voting eligibility. I’ve voted on traditional paper ballots, hanging chads and all. I’ve voted on scantron ballots. These days, I vote via permanent absentee ballot:
I’ve always been mesmerised by the electoral process. Growing up, our house was used as the polling place for the community, and my father always let me take the day off from school to watch the voting. I clamored to turn on the radio for election results like other children screamed for ice cream. I’m somewhat more cynical about elections, voting, and enfranchisement these days.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law on 26 July, 1990, we are still dealing with inaccessible polling places. And we are still dealing with disabled politicians who veto bills designed to increase polling place accessibility:
Last September, the governor [David Paterson of New York], who himself has a disability, shocked many when he vetoed a group of disability bills mostly centered on rights provided through the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, including voting place access.
This article goes on to discuss the voting access aspects of the legislation Paterson vetoed in more detail, pointing out that many of the claims he made about the legislation were false and illustrating that funds are made federally available to address accessibility issues at polling places. There is no reason for a polling place to be inaccessible, ever, and it is horrific that the Governor felt it was appropriate to veto a bill that included, among other things, polling place accessibility.
Voting matters. We have a right to participate in the democratic process, and this right is routinely denied to us. Not just here in the United States. I’m sure many FWD readers remember jady_lady’s post about being disenfranchised in the recent UK election:
It was only whilst walking home with my partner that we compared notes. It appeared that my template had been placed fairly close to the left hand edge of the form, and my partner’s had been nearer the middle of the form. We phoned a friend and asked where the boxes appear on the ballot paper and were told that they are down the right hand side.
It would therefore appear that both our ballot papers are spoilt and we haven’t had a vote in this very important election.
When I was a young child eagerly watching everyone vote, it filled me with a sense that there was some justice in the world. People could be angry, they could be unhappy with the political situation, and they could express themselves at the polls. I remember the first election I voted in vividly. I remember reading my voter’s guide with care and showing up at the polling place precisely at 7:00 AM so I could vote as soon as it was physically possible, I remember being handed my ballot and going into the stall and carefully using the stylus to punch out my vote, I remember slipping my ballot into the protective cover to protect the confidentiality of my vote, handing it to the poll worker and watching her drop it into the lockbox with the other ballots. I remember eagerly watching as results rolled in, looking at the county results and thinking ‘one of these votes was mine.‘
The thought that anyone would be denied that right and that experience makes me indescribably furious. Actively working to deny people the right to vote is nothing short of repugnant. So is denying people the right to vote in confidentiality; a polling place is not ‘accessible’ if voters are required to disclose their votes to a poll worker to get their ballots cast. It is not ‘accessible’ if the only wheelchair-accessible space to vote is a table in the middle of the room where everyone can see.
An estimated 20% of the population of the United States is disabled. That’s a pretty big percentage of the electorate. Given that we are not actually a hivemind, it’s safe to assume that we have some very diverse views on politics and that those of us who do vote probably vote very differently. Those of us who can’t vote would vote differently as well, if they were given an opportunity to do so. It’s important to make sure that these voices are heard, to ensure that votes are cast not only by people who can walk up the stairs to a polling place, stand at a polling booth, and interact with a touchscreen or paper ballot, but by everyone.
There is absolutely no reason to keep polling places inaccessible, unless, of course, you are afraid of the power of the disability vote.