By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
Did you vote yesterday? If so, how did it go? Historically, people with disabilities have voted at a far lower rate than the general public. As an organization, we at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition and the Michigan Assistive Technology Program believe and out our philosophy “Nothing about us without us!” We are an organization of people with disabilities, run and managed by people with disabilities, working to assure the disability voice is at the table when decisions that impact our lives are being made. The biggest, most important table, where we can exercise our hard-fought right to vote, is the voting booth table.
In 2002, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with a mandate to “ensure the full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities, including registering to vote, casting a vote, and accessing polling places.” HAVA requires that all polling places are ADA accessible and that all polling places have a device (Assistive technology—AT) available so people with disabilities can cast their votes privately and independently. Michigan uses the AutoMARK system. The law also requires that the means of registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot are fully accessible.
Do you use assistive technology? Did you use the AutoMark system? Did you encounter barriers to voting/accessing the polling place/accessing voter registration or absentee voting applications?
Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services, a partner organization, is the federally designated agency in Michigan to protect people with disabilities’ right to vote. They operate the Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access program. If you or someone you know have questions or concerns about access to voting and access to AT for voting, contact them at 800-288-5923. They can also help you register to vote if you haven’t already done so. The Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center has information on registering to vote, sample ballots for elections, and directions to your polling place. That November general election is just around the corner and we want your voice to be heard—help us change the tide and increase our power, help us become a powerful constituency of voters whose voices are loud, proud, and heard.
I used the AutoMark. It was working in my polling place, although the poll workers didn’t quite have it ready to go. It was still on the test screen and they didn’t have the privacy screen up, but they fixed this quickly. I voted late and was told I was the only one to request to use it that day. It’s so important that people with disabilities (and people without) get to their polling place and ASK to use the AutoMark because they likely won’t tell you it’s an option, unfortunately.