Braille Monitor                  January 2022

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Voting is a Blindness Issue

by Lou Ann Blake

Lou Ann BlakeFrom the Editor: Lou Ann Blake is a talented member of the Federation who also works on our national staff. Her jobs could fill an article, but what we want to focus on here is her work on seeing that the blind have equal rights in voting.

At the 2021 National Convention, we passed a resolution on this subject, and parts of it have brought about spirited discussion specifically about the requirement for a photo ID. To discuss that resolution and the reasons why this and other requirements are burdensome for some blind people, she has written this article. Here is what she says:

Following the 2020 general election, a number of state legislatures passed legislation that require a voter to show a state-issued photo identification card to poll workers, obtain medical certification of disability in order to vote absentee, and to limit the number of early voting centers, Election Day polling places, and ballot drop boxes. In response to this legislation and at the urging of the Resolutions Committee chair, Sharon Maneki, my colleague Jeff Kaloc and I co-authored Resolution 2021-02, Regarding Suppression of the Rights of Voters with Disabilities that was adopted during our 2021 National Convention. This resolution condemns and deplores these laws for creating barriers that make it difficult for voters with disabilities to exercise their constitutional right to vote. To my surprise, this resolution generated some controversy.

The primary focus of the opposition to the resolution was over the assertion that requiring a blind voter to have a state-issued photo ID creates a barrier for voters with disabilities due to the time and expense needed to obtain such an ID. Many who opposed the resolution stated that this assertion was contrary to our NFB philosophy of high expectations and that the requirement to produce a state-issued photo ID to exercise the right to vote is not a blindness issue. I would argue, however, that what is at stake here is not our philosophy but our participatory democracy.

Any American citizen who meets the voting eligibility requirements established by the state in which they reside should be able to exercise our Constitutional right to vote. We should be able to exercise this right whether we live in a rural area or an urban area, whether we have a job or are unemployed, whether we have a disability or not, and we should be able to exercise this right regardless of our socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. Similarly, when members of the National Federation of the Blind meet their state's voting eligibility requirements, our opportunity to exercise the right to vote should not be dependent on our ability to travel to a remote state ID agency. Neither should our right to vote depend on our ability to pay for that travel or the required ID. This is particularly true for blind Americans who have not yet connected with the National Federation of the Blind and our positive philosophy of blindness.

Our organization is a large, diverse family that accepts new members into the fold regardless of their level of blindness skill or their philosophy. We meet these members where they are and then teach them our NFB philosophy that they can live the lives they want. Learning this philosophy and the alternative techniques of blindness is a journey that takes some longer to travel than others. Just like we do not exclude people from joining our family because of where they are in this journey, the exercise of the fundamental right to vote must not be denied an eligible blind citizen simply because they have not yet gained the skills and confidence in their personal journey of adjustment to blindness to accomplish tasks, such as obtaining a photo ID, that have no relevance to their eligibility to vote.

The justification that many state legislators and other politicians use in supporting photo ID laws is election security and to instill confidence in the election process. As evidenced by the many hand counts and audits that followed the 2020 general election, in-person voting fraud is rare in the United States. If legislators are sincere in their belief that requiring voters to show a photo ID at their polling place makes elections more secure, then they should make the process of obtaining a photo ID easier. Requiring voters to show a photo ID at their polling place, requiring a doctor's certification of disability to vote by mail, and forcing voters who want to vote in person to travel further because their local polling place has been closed does not make elections more secure, but it does inconvenience the vast majority of law-abiding citizens who merely want to exercise our fundamental right to vote. Requiring an audit of every election when ballots are tabulated electronically is the best practice for ensuring that election results are accurate, that the election system is secure, and to instill voter confidence.

Another argument that many have made in opposition to the resolution is that it is not about a blindness issue. The exercise of our fundamental right to vote is how we, as members of the blind civil rights movement, elect government leaders who will adopt policies and pass legislation that may improve the ability of blind children to receive a free and appropriate public education, improve the ability of blind adults to receive training in the alternative techniques of blindness, improve the ability of a blind employee to receive accommodations in the workplace, and improve the ability of a newly blind senior to receive books and newspapers in audio format. Any legislation that could adversely affect our ability to exercise our fundamental right to vote is absolutely a blindness issue because it may impede our ability to elect government leaders who support legislation that will improve the lives of blind Americans.

 Voters with disabilities represent a significant portion of the voting population in the United States since, according to the Center for Disease Control, one in four American adults have a disability that affects major life activities. Historically, turnout of voters with disabilities has been lower than for voters without disabilities, and according to Rutgers University professors Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, the turnout for voters with disabilities for the 2020 general election was 5.7 percentage points lower than for voters without disabilities. Our democracy and its citizens cannot thrive when state legislators pass laws that disincentivize voters with disabilities to exercise their right to vote, further diminishing our voice in determining how our country is governed. As members of the nation's leading disability rights organization, we cannot stand by and let state legislators minimize our voice in the process of electing government leaders who will implement policies and legislation that will affect us all.

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