October 31, 2018.
Over the past few months, we have explored disability and voting from different angles, including:
Hopefully, these blog posts have helped answer the main question about disability and voting: Why is it important for people with disabilities to vote? But in case some question remains, another way to answer is to turn it around and ask, “Why not?” Why do disabled people who are eligible to vote not vote?
There are basically three main reasons people don’t vote …
1. “Not interested”
This is probably the least talked about reason, but possibly one of the most common. People say, even if only to themselves:
- “I’m not interested in politics.”
- “Political discussions are upsetting.”
- “I’m sick to death of campaign ads and yard signs.”
- “I have an image in my head of a typical ‘disability activist’ and that’s not me.”
Some people simply like politics, and others don’t … much as some people like NFL football, or baking, or the intricacies of the Star Wars universe, and others don’t. The problem here is that we tend to confuse politics and voting.
Being a committed and regular voter doesn’t require being “into politics.” If you are just naturally interested in politics and activism, then voting will probably be a given for you. If not, try to remember that in all of politics, voting is the one concrete step you can take, the one official avenue you have for influence, and the one decision nobody can force you to make. After all the ads, rhetoric, and tense arguments with family and friends, it all comes down to just you and your ballot. And you don’t have to explain or justify your votes to anyone.
2. “Voting is useless”
While some people don’t vote because they don’t have strong political opinions, others don’t vote because their political beliefs are very strong, and to them, voting is weak sauce.
- “Contrary to conventional wisdom, I actually don’t believe voting is important.”
- “There’s never anyone to vote for. All the parties and candidates are the same.”
- “Voting only validates an essentially corrupt and cruel system.”
- “I’ve voted lots of times and nothing changed, least of all for people with disabilities.”
These reasons for non-voting are harder to answer because they are usually based on some kind of definite opinion, rather than lack of interest. But if you think voting has no value, consider this. If voting is so pointless, why is so much effort put into winning people’s votes on the one hand, and suppressing other people’s votes on the other?
3. “Voting is hard”
It’s not easy to pin down exact numbers, but it’s almost certainly true that a great many disabled people eligible to vote don’t vote because in some practical sense they can’t. It’s just too hard, both physically and emotionally. And it’s not because we are weaker, or lazier than other people. In many cases, the barriers are just too high.
It’s tempting for regularly engaged voters to scoff at this. Even when we know better, we tend to form in our minds a stereotypical picture of the “non-voter.” They’re young and forgetful. They don’t know anything about current events and are too lazy to learn. They are privileged and have the luxury of not caring about politics. They lack a sense of civic duty. They are comically incompetent … unable even to figure out how to buy a stamp to mail in an absentee ballot.
For some non-voters and inconsistent voters, a few of these stereotypes are undoubtedly true. However, as people with disabilities, we also know how easily a fairly simple task like voting can be thwarted by small but decisive barriers.
- Lack of transportation … You don’t have a car, can’t get a ride from a friend, (or can’t get yourself into and out of a friend’s car), can’t afford a taxi, or can’t coordinate your everyday care schedule with available public transit and polling place hours.
- Inaccessible polling places … There are too many physical barriers on the path to your polling place, the polling place itself isn’t adequately accessible, or the voting system is inaccessible or not working properly.
- Excessive bureaucracy … You have to register to vote, and by certain dates that aren’t always widely known. If you need an absentee ballot there’s paperwork and a deadline for that, too. Some people with disabilities have their basic eligibility questioned, regardless of disability rights laws. Voter ID laws add even more hurdles.
Considering the importance attached to voting in this country, at least in theory and in our supposed civic virtues, it’s kind of astonishing how many hoops you have to jump through just to do it. Voting should absolutely be easier and more accessible than it is, especially for disabled people.
On the other hand, voting is important enough that as disabled people, we should probably make it a priority to vote, and do whatever we have to do to cast our votes. If that means spending a day waiting near our polling place because the bus can only pick us up at one specific time, then we do it. If it means voting by absentee ballot because our assigned polling place is out of our reach, we do it. If it means asking a poll worker for help in casting our vote, we do it … even if the poll workers are condescending or cold.
As disabled people, we struggle through innumerable barriers every day. We shouldn’t have to, but we do. Election Day is not the day to throw up our hands and say, “Why bother?”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. The polls in New York State are open from 6 AM to 9 PM.