How Can We Increase the Disability Vote?

*This is the first of a series of blogs based on the report “Increasing the Disability Vote” written by Rachita Singh for Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy

Image of multiple stickers patriotic stars and stripes stickers scattered across a surface all saying "I voted".

By Rachita Singh | September 16, 2021

The disability vote describes a powerful voting bloc consisting of over 38 million eligible voters and spanning all races, ethnicities, localities, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, and ages. Historically, the disability vote has been lower than that of people without disabilities, with a gap of over 2 million votes in the most recent election. Despite the fact that 1 in 4 American adults has a disability, candidates rarely address the disability community and issues important to us, and campaign websites, town halls, and debates are frequently inaccessible and not inclusive. The disability vote is too often overlooked and forgotten.

In order to counter this, AAPD asked the following question: What are effective strategies organizations can implement in order to raise awareness and increase the disability vote? 

And to answer this question, I carried out a series of interviews with people from various disability rights and voting advocacy organizations, such as Crip The Vote, Voto Latino, Human Rights Campaign, and more. I also conducted case studies on groups that have shown success in encouraging voter turnout within their communities.

During the interviews, I talked with a diverse set of advocates about the many barriers to voting and ways to overcome them. The four barriers most common to people with disabilities, people of color, disabled people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and other marginalized groups were:

  1. Discrimination. Interviewees from disability rights/justice organizations discussed implicit and explicit ableism, while those from other voting rights groups described experiences of marginalization at the polls based on race or gender identity.  
    “Every marginalized group has experienced discrimination personally and that links them together…” – Leslie Adames, Voto Latino
  2. Voter Suppression.  Voter suppression is used to influence the outcome of elections by discouraging or preventing certain groups of people from voting. Interviewees detailed tactics such as voter I.D. laws, eliminating early voting or same-day registration, and unnecessarily shutting down polling places.
    Disability laws are being used to target minority leaders, putting bogus charges on them such as ineligibly helping someone else to vote. This has a chilling effect on many communities.” – Michelle Bishop, National Disability Rights Network
  3. Voter Apathy. People are not going to the polls simply because they do not care or do not see the point. This is especially true within the disability community, where politicians continually overlook them and do not bring their issues to the forefront.
    “For voters who argue their vote doesn’t matter or that nothing can ever change, engage in simple questions: If your vote doesn’t matter, why do we have gerrymandering or voter suppression? [These issues] are carefully orchestrated to limit voting power. ” – Halley Rogers, When We All Vote
  4. Lack of Information. There is an information barrier when it comes to voting and many of the interviewees believed that if people understood what they were voting for, and how to do it, then they would take more of an interest and engage
    “Civics courses are not as fruitful as they should be…there are people my age, around 27, who do not know the three branches of government and don’t understand what they do or what impact citizens can have.” – Deandrea Newsome, Local Progress

In the next few months, we will be posting blogs that dive deeper into these four key barriers, as well as the case studies I conducted on a few key communities. The interviews and case studies are ways to gain insight into how organizations like AAPD can better build the disability vote and accurately amplify the already amazing work advocates are doing. In order to learn more about what gaps exist in the field and why some strategies have a better impact than others, I conducted a comparative case study, examining three underrepresented groups: the Latinx/Hispanic community, the LGBTQIA+ population, and the youth of America. Given the multitudes of backgrounds and identities that exist within the United States, these case studies are just a drop in the ocean. But they can give us a better understanding of how factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age influence the way communities work together to address issues.

Stay tuned for the other blogs in this series that will delve deeper into the interviews with advocates, who they were, and what was discussed, along with the specific findings from the case studies that describe how each group increased voter turnout. 

Check out all of the activities taking place this week at aapd.com/ndvrw and…

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