Let’s Rock the Vote in NYC!

every_vote_countsIt’s time to vote again! Many New Yorkers may not realize it, but this year’s voting cycle starts soon—with congressional primaries scheduled for June 24. To vote in those congressional primaries, you have to register to vote by Friday, May 30—which is just around the corner.

To see who is running in your district, just click here.

In New York City, people who cannot make it to the polls on Election Day because of illness or disability have the right to vote by absentee ballot. You can receive a postage-paid Absentee Ballot Application form by calling 1-866-VOTENYC or download and print the form here. To vote in New York’s congressional primaries on June 24, your absentee ballot must be postmarked by June 23.

And there are more elections just down the road. Statewide primaries for candidates for governor, attorney general, comptroller and state legislative seats will take place on September 9 and absentee ballots for these primaries must be postmarked by September 8.

The general election is November 4, and absentee ballots must be postmarked by November 3.

Participation matters

Battles over access to the polls are playing out all over the country—more than 30 states have introduced voting restrictions over the past three years—but people with disabilities have been fighting these battles for decades.

A first-of-its-kind national survey released last summer found high levels of political engagement among people who describe themselves as having a disability. At the same time, new research from the National Council on Disability and the Alliance for Accessible Voting shows that people with disabilities do not yet vote in the same numbers as other eligible voters.

In 2012—the year of the last presidential election—voter turnout among people with disabilities was almost 6 percent lower than for eligible voters as a whole, “meaning that 3 million more voters with disabilities would have participated if they voted at the same rate” as other people. In fact, at a meeting last year of the National Council on Disability, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd called people with disabilities “the single largest demographic group of nonvoters in the United States.” That isn’t all that surprising when you consider that 40 percent of those who took part in the NCD/AAV study reported encountering architectural barriers at their local registration or polling site.

Wendy Strobel Gower, who directs an ADA center at Cornell University, explained, “Some people with disabilities can’t even get into the buildings to vote. When they can get in, they often can’t use the voting tools provided, and poll workers have to help them cast a ballot. This takes away their right to vote confidentially.”

In January a commission appointed by the Obama Administration offered recommendations to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots, including those with disabilities. Their suggestions include widespread use of online voter registration and early voting; accessibility checklists for all polling places and audits to verify compliance; and training poll workers how to interact with voters who have disabilities and how to assist them with equipment.

While these are sound ideas, given that voting is a process administered by thousands of state and local officials all over the country, each with their own political agenda and fiscal resources, uniform improvements are unlikely in the foreseeable future. That said, with a little forethought and planning, New Yorkers with disabilities and those whose health makes it difficult for them to vote in person can ensure that they are not disenfranchised.

Not registered? New York makes it easy.

Remember, to vote in any primary or the general election you must be registered. If you are not sure whether you are registered, you can find out by calling 1-866-VOTENYC or look up the answer online here.

If you are not registered you can get a registration form by calling 1-866-VOTENYC or you can download and print one here. If you have a New York State driver’s license you can even register to vote online.

Remember, to vote in a primary in New York, you must be a registered party member. However, that is NOT the case for the general election in November; as long as you are registered to vote you will be eligible to cast your ballot in November for governor, comptroller, attorney general, and for your district’s congressional and state legislative seats.

To learn more check out the Center for Disability Rights New York Disability Vote Network.

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