Americans with disabilities had less difficulty voting in the 2020 election than in previous years, according to a study released last week by the U.S. Electoral Assistance Commission.
The EAC report shows that the gap between disabled and non-disabled voters who experienced problems during the vote has narrowed significantly. In 2020, 11.4% of voters with disabilities reported having problems compared to 6.4% of voters without disabilities. This drop is remarkable compared to a similar report carried out in 2012 which found that 26.1% of voters with disabilities versus 7.4% of voters without disabilities said they had problems.
That means one in nine respondents with disabilities said they had difficulty voting in 2020, according to the report.
Lisa Schur, co-researcher of the report and co-director of the Disability Research Program at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, told HuffPost that the improvement in accessibility is “truly remarkable.”
“[It] says something to the efforts of the Committee on Electoral Systems, to the states that have worked on it and certainly to the disability groups who have worked tirelessly on this issue, ”she said. “But there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Schur pointed out that even though one in nine disabled respondents said they voted more easily, this number is still high.
“We estimate that around 19 to 20 million people with disabilities likely voted,” said report co-author Douglas Kruse, who is also co-director of the Disability Research Program. “So that means 11% had difficulty. That’s 2 million people … that’s quite a number of people.
Kruse said the two main barriers people with disabilities face when voting in person are difficulty standing in line (for people with chronic pain) and entering polling stations (for wheelchair users). rolling).
“It turns out that about half of the decrease, or half of that improvement, is due to the move to postal voting,” Kruse said. “People with disabilities who would expect more difficulties at polling stations, based on their past experiences, were more likely to benefit from postal ballots. But we found a decrease [in difficulties] among those who voted in polling stations, and this appears to be due to the real improvements in accessibility. “
And although Schur agreed that postal voting – which was more accessible to Americans in the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 pandemic – “may make it easier for many people with disabilities to vote,” she stressed that the ballots postal voting is not a “size fits all” solution for every American with a disability.
Schur said respondents with a visual impairment find it difficult to read ballots when voting in person, and postal ballots did not solve the problem.
“[They] had difficulty receiving the ballot, filling out the ballot or returning it, ”she said. “It’s a major problem.”
She also said people with cognitive disabilities also had difficulty with ballots.
“I know I sometimes have a hard time understanding the proposals and the different things on the ballots,” Schur said. “I think moving more towards plain language would be a great benefit for everyone, actually, but especially for people with cognitive, processing and visual impairments.”
Schur and Kruse also explained that people without disabilities should care about the accessibility of voting as much as those with disabilities.
“Presenting ballots and information in plain language benefits citizens whose mother tongue is not English,” Schur cited as an example. “And this is an important sector of our population.”
She also noted that the United States has an “aging population”.
“If you live long enough, you are likely to develop a disability,” she says.
“As we age, making polling stations accessible will have a big impact on participation,” she said. “Even for people who don’t necessarily identify as having a disability as they get older.”
The EAC report also comes as Republican lawmakers in several states like Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania attempt to restrict voting rights. In Arizona, state Republicans are considering proposals to limit or eliminate absentee voting without excuse, meaning any registered voter who submits a request to vote by mail can receive one without having to give a reason.
If bills like these pass, they could prevent many people from voting in the next election.
“[No-excuse absentee voting] really seems to improve the participation rate of people with disabilities because there is a stigma attached to having to identify as having a disability, ”said Schur. “But if it’s just ‘I want one’, or people automatically get one whether they want to use it or not, I think that can make a real difference.”
Stigma, or feeling like “other people” in their own community, also happened to be another reason why many people with disabilities who spoke with Schur and Kruse said they wanted better accessibility to polling stations.
“It was interesting, several of them spoke very eloquently about the personal importance of being seen by the public when they went to vote,” Kruse said. [It was important to them that] we have seen them participate with their fellow citizens in this ritual of democracy.
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