Change Begins at Home: Engaging Voters with Disabilities

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  We're waiting a few minutes to see if others are going to come in.  We will start at 11:05.  That will give people time if there are others who want to join.  Feel free to share the program.  It will be a good conversation, hopefully inspirational so if there are others that you know want to join now feel free to share the program with them so we get as many as possible in the conversation.  

If you just joined we are going to start in one minute so we can get those trickling out of other sessions.  
All right.  We have a fairly small group today hopefully that means we can get conversations going and share our stories so we know what's going on in your world.  

I'm Christina Asbee and Erin Haire we are from the PAVA network, Protection and Advocacy Network.  We have closed captioning and I believe it's in English only, I could be wrong so please correct me if I'm wrong. There is a captioning option within Zoom, there is also in the chat a direct link for it.  It is quite long.  If you need me to read it out loud, can you please let me know by chiming in now?  

If you are on a phone you can unmute yourself by pressing star 6.  We have an ASL interpreter today who will be in the frame.  We are sharing a PowerPoint presentation and we will read the content from the PowerPoint while we go through each slide.  

If you don't already have a copy of the slides and you would like one, you can put your email in the chat and we will email you the slides directly.  

I think we can get started with the next slide.  Sorry, with the first slide.  The first slide is an introduction slide change begins at home.  That's the title of our conversation today.  We're talking about how advocates can encourage involvement at a local level.  

Going back to the first slide this is a slide about us and -- sorry, the second slide, Erin, I'm sorry.  My name as I mentioned is Christina Asbee, I am a Program Director at Disability Rights New York I direct assistive technology, the traumatic brain injury and the Voting Access Programs at Disability Rights New York.  I am an attorney.  

I am a white female and I'm in my late 30s.  I have my hair -- I have blonde hair and it's up halfway.  I have a black jacket on and clear glasses, clear frames and clear lenses and I have an invisible disability.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Hello, everyone, my name is Erin Haire, and I'm thrilled to be here with Christina, my partner in some of this work that we do.  I would like to thank you for spending your time with us today.  There are a lot of great sessions, some that I hope to catch up on myself.  My name is Erin Haire.  I am the Voting Access Policy and Outreach Coordinator at South Carolina and I am going to give you a description of myself.  Late 30s, white woman, dark hair, pulled halfway back and I'm wearing blue-framed glasses and what I have come to believe is a signature dark lip.  

Again, thank you so much for being here with us today.  We will do our best to read faithfully from the slides. We do have a small group today so I would like to say that we can be pretty casual if somebody needs to go back to a slide or needs us to reiterate something, please let us know and then we will take questions after.  We have left a robust question period.  

I think we will go ahead and get started with the meat of our presentation.  I'm going to let Christina hop in and tell you a little bit about voting and voting access and her work in New York.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  As I mentioned earlier I'm of the Voting Access Program Director it's a fairly small program at Disability Rights New York.  We are primarily a law office but we have voting advocacy program that is a nonlitigation program.  We're not allowed to do any litigation in it.  

So as a lawyer that kind of changes the way we do our work to push voting access.  The work that we primarily do is making sure that first and foremost our voting program is accessible to people with disabilities and what that means is all aspects of the voting program from the websites that people who want to look at about candidates or their board of elections office, or the state board of elections office, making sure those are accessible.  Thanks to the good work of NFB and ACB and Brown, Goldstein & Levy, and DRA, Disability Rights Advocates, a lot of that work has been done.  

We get to benefit from that in our advocacy in terms of the website accessibility.  We make sure voting registration is happening across the state to the extent we can, we work closely with the League of Women Sororities to make sure what they are doing is accessible as possible.  We speak with policy makers, elected leaders or the Governor's office is communicating with us now, which is wonderful.  

We're trying to promote plain language and we're trying to -- on top of the accessibility issues that we're promoting as well.  One important piece of our work load is making sure that ballot marking devices are accessible to people who need devices in order to vote independent and privately.  

We have old twice at the polling locations in New York state.  They have not updated them.  We work with the Board of Elections at the state level to, now that we're sort of seeing more developments in technology and a lot of these old ballot marking devices are either not working or they're just sort of hanging on by a thread.  At the local level we work to make sure that the devices are demoed by people with disabilities and then we get feedback and then the manufacturers can respond to the issues that we have identified through the demonstrations.  

So that's sort of the work that we do.  We are very small.  We try to do as much as possible.  This is a call for you all, we want to work with other groups so that we can maximize our ability to make change throughout New York and throughout the country.  Erin?  

ERIN HAIRE:  Thank you, Christina.  I think one of the reasons that we were brought together via a shared project that we will speak to later in the presentation, we believe, is that when people think of South Carolina and they think of New York, two more disparate states politically do not exist, but in our conversations we have found that the fundamental issues of accessibility and voting access are the same.  We are also a small program.  

Voting Access does not make up the bulk of what we do in terms of our service areas.  But it is an excellent program and I think that we accomplish a lot in South Carolina.  We have a little bit of a different voting mechanism in our state as compared to some of our neighbors.  

We do not have a Secretary of State that's elected that manages our elections.  We have an appointed Board of Elections, election commission in our state that is tasked with working independently of politics in the state.  I think that from my experience they do an excellent job of that.  So our work has been -- when I came on a couple of years ago, our role was a lot of traditional polling place accessibility work.  I would drive around to different counties and advise them on making their precincts accessible to varying degrees of receptiveness and response.  

So we decided partly because of how receptive our Election Commission was to our issues and our discussions with them and partly because of direct Department of Justice involvement in our state that we were going to turn our focus from being individually engaged in the counties which some counties were receptive and excited about the services that we were providing and some were very, very resistant.  So we made the decision that my time as a singular person doing voting access -- 

We have since added one more person would be better spent doing big picture things in our state so we made that turn.  In South Carolina we have seen, and I'm going to talk to policy later in the session but we have not seen the overarching restrictive voting bills that many of our neighboring states have seen and I like to credit that with having such robust advocates in the state.  So let's go ahead and talk a little bit about our goals for the session.  Christina, did you want to come in and talk about this and maybe I will chime in at the end?  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  Sure.  Our goals for the session is we want to learn about efforts that have had success in New York and South Carolina two very different states.  Just to add to that, we are, again, a small group so please join.  This is a meeting style so join in the conversation if you can share your successes in your state as well.  

We also want to start thinking about new methods of voting advocacy in light of our virtual spaces that we're more in tune with and just how -- expand about how we can come together to share ideas about voting advocacy expansion.  We also want to get and give some good ideas and to reenergize the group and us before the mid-term elections, we've got a road ahead of us.  

Over the next few months, until November and the mid-terms, it's important not to lose track of what our goals are in terms of getting the vote -- getting people registered to vote and making sure voting programs are accessible.  

ERIN HAIRE:  I was told that my microphone is scratchy, I think it has to do with the proximity to the mic so hopefully I've reorganized and that's better.  I think that the goals for this session, in 2020 it was kind of a water shed year for people who worked in et Voting Access, partially because of the politics of that election and partially because we were in a pandemic.  So I think that provided us with an opportunity to really do some thinking about how people with disabilities interact with the mechanisms of voting.  

Hopefully we can some it context and ways to keep that momentum going.  So I think we will go to the next slide and we will talk a little bit about the project that brought Christina and I together as colleagues, which were the candidate forums that we hosted before leading up to the 2021 elections, actually.  We were -- because we are part of the protection advocacy network, there was a little pot of money that was available for us to put on nonpartisan forums for candidates.  

They could talk about issues that were of particular relevance to the disability community.  This had been done in Georgia to some robust success, and so I think NDRN, our parent organization wanted to see if this could be replicated.  The 2021 elections gave us an excellent chance to kind of focus on local elections and municipal elections and talk about involvement in those, because some of the issues and the legislation that are coming out of states and cities are very, very weighty.  

In terms of their period of time in answer to the disability community.  I am going to let Christina speak to her experience and then I will hop back in.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  Yeah, the general theme of today's conversation is about the importance of local elections and these candidate forums were a way to highlight that because even at your municipal level when you hear candidates talk about their vision and what they want to achieve if they are elected into their office, there are ways that candidates understand the disability community and the issues that the disability community may face in their community.  

And then, you know, there are some candidates that just don't even understand that the disability community is a thing, that it's a powerful voice, and it's certainly a group -- generalizing the community as a whole, the power of this voice can be very strong.  While we see a lot of differences in political views and values throughout the disability community, it's no less important to understand that it is -- that perhaps 1 in 4 or 5 people live in the United States identify as somebody who has a disability, so potentially they could identify as part of the disability community.  

We encourage through Erin and my work, in our respective states, we encourage open communications with candidates about just general education about disability issues, the existence of the ADA, its impact on how elected leaders need to be making decisions and what kind of considerations need to be made in terms of accessibility needs.  So we learned a lot about -- from individuals not only in the community but at the table of these conversations candidates who wanted to be elected for a position in their community and we learned so much.  

So much about people's understanding or lack of understanding that was really -- I think it was -- it guides our advocacy so not only are we helping share information through these, but we're also learning about areas that we need to focus on in our advocacy to promote this education, not only to the community but especially candidates.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Yeah, and I will add the way that we started, we had this pot of money and a lot of freedom from our funders about how exactly we would spend it.  They had to be nonpartisan, obviously, and we had to focus on disability issues and that was about it.  So leveraging community partnerships was key for us and if there is one thing they'll say repeatedly during the session is to learn to rely on community partnerships.  When I first came to my job I thought I was the only one doing this kind of work in the state and that was quite untrue.  

Now there's even more engagement on the state level.  So the first thing I did was call up my community partners and say, where are some of the races that we think would benefit from some engagement on these issues?  And my community partners were the ones that said let's look in these areas, let's look at that he is races and let's kind of try and shine a light on these more rural, municipal, smaller elections.  

I think that that approach was helpful in getting buy-in from the candidates.  Because we  have more rural partners, we could offer something to the candidates that they weren't getting anywhere else, which is attention and advertisement for these events and engagement on issues that while disability focused, all our questions were disability focused had some resonance for everybody, for all the voters in that area.  

Christina will speak to her take-aways, but we had two forums, local elections, and my take-aways from those events, they were extremely illuminating.  The partnerships were key.  We could not have done that without people on the ground in those counties, in those areas that, one, knew the candidates, number two, knew what issues were of particular relevance, one that we did was a mayoral race and one was a city council race.  

Between those, the questions and issues were disparate.  The major takeaway was candidates have a limited understanding not only of how to answer questions about disability issues but what constitutes a disability issue.  We asked questions about affordable housing and that was not answered in the scope of a disability issue and we had to rein that in and hone that question down.  We partnered with the League of Women Voters, who have strict guidelines but I thought the discussion would have been more robust and helpful to the candidates and viewers if they were given a chance to prepare the answers.  That's a personal preference for me but I think we would have had a more robust discussion and points of disagreement how we allowed the candidates to prepare their answers beforehand.  

Christina, did you want to speak to your takeaways?  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  Yeah, the work we did in 2021 with the candidate forums, we focused on mayoral races across the state.  We focused on the Buffalo primarily and the general, sorry, primaries.  We had a candidate forum for Albany, both the primaries and the general, and then we also worked with New York City to make sure that their debates themselves were accessible.  I will start with that point.  That was a bit of a task, because when we were hearing from the community about -- in preparation.  

Before the debates started we were getting questions, about are there going to be visual descriptions, closed captioning?  What language are the closed captioning in?  Is there going to be American Sign Language, are the debates going to be offered in other language.  We were responding to questions that we had no idea what the answers were, because for so long we had not had these features in our frame of reference.  

Because I think a lot of it got exposed during the pandemic, once everybody got virtual and where the closed captioning was more readily used by a larger population.  So the conversation was easier to -- it's easier to bring that he is questions into the scope of the conversation and it was also easier to explain the need for it.  But I will say that despite all the attempts to resolve the issue well in advance, I think it was 24 hours or 36 hours before the debates.  

We were on the phone with the organizers and the producers of the debates before the primarily and they were telling us no, we don't have captioning, it's artificial intelligence captioning, it's not human captioning.  We don't have ASL. We're not going to do visual descriptions.  So we were getting nos to everything, and thankfully we were able to convince the agencies in charge of running the programs to force the producers to do it but that first debate you was not accessible to people because they couldn't get the accessibility features implemented in time.  DRNY assisted with that with a quick turn-around by providing the recording and post production -- providing the accessible features in post production but then all future programs were accessible.  

So that was a really important thing to do and it was very popular.  It was sort of popular way to communicate with the community, by getting that -- those features in place.  It had a lot of really good feedback.  I will say the visual descriptors that was something we did not get in the program itself during the debates, but they issued a press release shortly before every debate and pushed it out to community partners and people within the disability community who would benefit from those descript ores.  

And it got some interesting Twitter feeds at first but then as soon as, you know, a couple debates passed people realized that oh this is just standard practice.  I believe that future debates will include visual descriptors which is really good, obviously to make it more visible, and visual descriptors are becoming more mainstream.  This was an education effort that we made to try to make up candidate programs more accessible.  

In terms of our work with Albany, with the Albany mayoral races and Buffalo we worked in partnership with the ILCs and the local advocacy groups and we wanted to know their response to the issues that the disability community faces in those locales.  So the questions looked different in Albany and in buffalo. For example, in Albany, if you're not familiar with Albany, which most of you all are aren't, frankly, but Albany is a great place.  It is a welcoming city for many reasons, but not for pedestrian accessibility. The sidewalks and the crosswalks and the curb cuts are not accessible for people.  They have not prioritized that.  

So we were wanting to hear from the candidates so we asked those direct questions.  We also had runs of shows before we did our programming and that was really helpful to talk to the candidates prior and let them know what to expect.  And because we wanted to develop a clear focus on what was being communicated and like Erin said it's important to be able to really give as many preparation as possible so we don't blind side the candidates.  As Erin said, it's not a competition.  

These forums were not looked at as a competition, they were looked at as a way to get information from the candidates about their position.  But if they don't even know of things that they need to talk about and they need to take a position on, the conversation is just going to end very fast.  

ERIN HAIRE:  We would like to talk about other ways that we engaged with candidates.  I'm going to talk about the last two on this list, certifications for candidates and education sessions for legislators and I will let Christina then talk about candidate handbooks because that is her area of expertise.  

Probably the biggest takeaway from the candidate forums was that we are dealing with a very low-level of engagement with these issues.  Education need to be our top priority and that had has got to start with what is a disability issue?  How do the issues that you are engaging with on a daily basis affect people with disabilities?  Affect them disproportionately, and how do we talk about them in a framework of accessibility?  

So we are in the beginning stages.  There are other programs in the state, other nonprofits, I can give the example of the Institutes of Medicine and Public Headlight that do a similar thing, off of which we are modeling this program, where we hold education sessions for legislator and allow them small numbers at a time to come in and interact with us, receive some information, ask questions, and at the end of those sessions they get a certification on disability issues.  

It usually is a good thing to remind them that as Christina allowed to, 20% of the public identifies as having a disability and our state in particular, we have an aging population so-so there are people who identify more and more every day as having a disability and engaging on these issues.  We have found that we get some pretty good engagement, especially from newer legislators that are kind of -- have their ears open for education opportunities, they're newly elected and they are really sponges.  

They are want any information we can give them.  So we have found good engagement on those and it's just so, so important as we saw from the candidate forums to be educating our legislators in basic disability issues and accessibility issues and how the issues that they're speaking to in a larger sense disproportionately affect our clients.  And the population in this state.  Christina, did you want to talk about the handbooks?  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  Yeah, yeah.  So one way that we -- that Disability Rights New York decided to engage candidates in a kind of a bit of a hands-off, nonpolitical way is to -- we drafted a candidate handbook and we update it every year.  Within that handbook -- let me step back.  Our handbook we have it up on our website at and I recommend popping around there if you are interested in what we are doing, but under voting resources, the candidate handbook is there with a picture-based outline form of text document that is visually appealing, content-wise it's written in plain language and it is designed to be helpful.  

It's designed to be a candidate's first form of reference in reaching out to people with disabilities and directly connecting with people with disabilities and the issues that are important to them.  Some positive things came out of a very bad time in our recent history.  One of those things is that from the view in my world, my professional world is that speaking about disabilities has become easier because it is more mainstream.  

I think when we created this candidate handbook, when we sent it out prior to the pandemic, we did not get much response from candidates.  After the first year of the pandemic, we have sent this candidate handbook out.  Generally we send it out to all across New York state.  It's a monumental task to collect all the information to do that but we have done it the past couple of years and we get positive response back.  We get invitations to speak directly to the candidate to elaborate on the issues that we have identified in the handbook.  

I want to say that it's very, very basic.  It's like, here is information about how you can register people to vote, and we identify the people under guardianship, they still have a legal right to vote unless a court has deemed otherwise.  We identify people who have felony convictions, they can vote as long as they're not in prison.  

We identify that, you know, voting places need to be accessible in your comment and you should prioritize that to make sure that everybody can vote in your community, and we talk about -- we just give tips about how the candidate can engage with people with disabilities.  

So it's not complex information, it's relatively simple, sort of like first-stop-shop information.  But what it's led to is we now get -- we are always in the conversation -- statewide conversations before our Senate and assembly, our state wide Senate and assembly, we are welcomed into town and municipal meetings to talk about issues.  

We get -- we have ongoing dialogue with candidates and once they've -- if they win their race, then they become elected officials and they will know to reach out to us about perhaps a bill that they're working on to make sure that it's accessible.  Wear now talking to the Governor's office about the importance of plain language.  It's been in the conversation for many years now but not much has happened with it.  We want to push that forward.  

As a result of connecting with rudimentary candidates we have prompted a larger, more impactful conversation at a local and state wide level.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Again, to do all of these things, we need community partners.  It was very, very isolating for me to be a person who worked in the Voting Access space in South Carolina when I first started.  It was daunting.  I felt that I was not very effective.  So I turned my eye with the blessing of my leadership to building a coalition of community partners who I could rely on, we could rely on each other to always be having a discussion on how we move forward accessibility and Voting Access in the state.  So I will just run through these and talk a little bit about my -- how I engaged these entities and then I will let Christina chime in at the end.  

As I said, we have -- I'm going to go out of order and start with our statewide election staff.  As I said we have a statewide election entity that is really friendly to us.  And they listen to us and takes our concerns serious and that has been the result of many years of partnering.  And it's a give and a get kind of thing.  I don't call them only when I am upset.  Only when I have something to tell them that they've got to do, they've got to remedy quickly.  They call me when they have questions of accessibility in the county space, in the precinct space and even in the legislative space.  If there are bills being bandied about that they are in a position to support or oppose they will call us and discuss that with us and we provide that service for them.  

There are counties that are receptive and understand the issues and are bent on fixing them, and that became easier as we had DOJ involvement in the state who were going around systematically and looking at accessibility in the polling places and they have the enforcement authority, right?  So it's easy for me now to say the DOJ is coming, you're on the list.  But engagement with them is again a two-way street.  They will call and ask okay what do I need to do?  

And we can provide them with assistance.  We have a robust disability advocacy infrastructure in this state. There are a lot of good groups so in terms of bringing them in it was really just making them understand why they should devote time to voting.  Why the centers for independent living should kind of partner with us on registration events and why even some residential facilities that we monitor should be partners with us.  

In order to better serve their res be dents in terms of getting people out to the polls and just in general knowledge about elections.  Then we have seen certainly since the 2020 election a robust increase in the number of election protection groups that are interested in our state.  And those include the national offices, the ACLU, NAACP, League of Women Voters has been a great partner and all of those groups have state offices.  So we have worked in conjunction with both of those and I will talk more about that when we get to specifics about the advocacy that was done.  

We have reached out to them, they have reached out to us, the national offices like for us to be subject matter experts on our particular states.  So that's a great service that we provide and they provide us support on the state and national level.  

Christina, anything you want to add?  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  No, thanks.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Okay.  There is a project that is near and dear to my heart and that is engaging with our local election staff and tying to encourage people with disabilities to be a part of that staff.  When I first came on I went to a conference of county officials and they told me that when they tell their precinct staff is that they should sit in a wheeled chair and try and navigate their precinct so they got a sense of how difficult it was for perhaps a wheelchair user to do that.  

So my question was, don't you have people with disabilities working in the precincts?  And their answer was by and large that they did not.  So I thought that sitting in a rolling chair is a poor substitute for having people with disabilities present in the precincts staffing them and giving that perspective.  Because we get a lot of -- I'm sure Christina has had this experience when she goes out on accessibility visits that folks that are working at local precincts say no, I know everybody that lives in this precinct, we don't have anybody with disabilities that's trying to vote here.  

My response is how would you know if they can't get in the building?  So this has been a good way for us to encourage people with disabilities to do that.  We find that it really increases accessibility just by virtue of having somebody there that can police that but also by making people aware, people that do not have disabilities working in those precincts.  The way we did it -- we started it right before COVID hit, so that was good and bad.  

We had to say, you know, if you have a disability that makes you especially vulnerable to COVID, we need to have another conversation about this.  But because our poll workers are aging, there was a real need for people who could work during COVID.  So it kind of shifted the make-up of that population and gave a lot of our consumers some impetus to do that. A lot of folks we talked to didn't know you got paid to come out and they thought it was a volunteer position. So we offered support to those individuals in applying and while they were working.  If they were getting push back from counties we would advocate for them, helped them in the application process, to find out who to contact and key in that effort was offering support to the counties and the precinct managers who were excited about hiring people with disabilities but didn't know what accommodations were due to those folks.  

So we said we are very excited to be able to offer you some support in this area, and it had to be two-pronged because we found that counties were shying away because they didn't know what accommodations they needed.  They were shying away from the accessibility issue in general.  

But it was a new perspective that we could offer and we are happy to report that can that we have had success in this area.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  We have had less success connecting with the County Boards of Elections to make sure that even at the training level, quite frankly even at the application level that disability and accommodations are being considered or they're a factor and they're understood by the county BOE staff.  We just haven't had any success in that area. We can't even get the state, unfortunately, we can't even get the state to sort of take the reins and require more comprehensive training program by the counties.  Hopefully that's going to change.  It's just a conversation in progress here.  But what we have recently done is put together a resource for people with disabilities or disability advocates to share that demystifies the poll worker process from application to being at the polls working on election day.  

Again, that resource is on our website, It's a fairly new resource so we haven't gone through an election with it yet but we plan to start pushing it out now so we can get interest.  Getting people with disabilities working at the polls during the election, whether it's early voting or on election day that is imperative to getting the polling locations accessible because without knowledgeable voices about how to accommodate people with disabilities we are at a great loss to make polling locations accessible.  We can, you know, come -- we can speak from the outside as much as we want but they're only going to listen to people internally, that's been my experience with the New York State County Boards of Elections.  
Not all of them, but many of them.  So we need people inside to raise issues, oh this entrance is a stepped entrance, let's make sure we have the accessible entrance on the other side of the building. Let's figure out how to incorporate that as a main entrance so we don't have an issue of voters trying to navigate a step.  This fire house here in this rural town in the Catskills, there are 17 fire trucks in this station and you are calling the entrance around all the fire trucks the accessibility entrance but there is only 4 inches of clearance because the fire house didn't move their trucks out of the way.  

If somebody were at the polling location at 6:30 in the morning doing the proper surveying, we would know that information before the staff comes and says there are all these fire trucks in the way and a person in a wheelchair can't get around or person who can't navigate steps, they can't use the accessible entrance because it is even less accessible than the stairs.  

These are all factors that could potentially be avoided if we had more people with disabilities working on election day.  So that's -- that is truly a local issue, like you can't get more local than that.  We are trying to make that a priority in our work flow at DRNY.  

ERIN HAIRE:  I will talk about voter registration efforts.  This is again another area where you have to engage your community partners to share resources and manpower.  We work with the League of Women Voters, we work with our university partners.  Because I am one person.  I have somebody else who works for me part-time doing voting issues, but we can share those resources and have an excellent voter registration event but it's all down to you who are leveraging partners.  

And we have found that the League of Women Voters in particular is an excellent partner for us because they have a huge volunteer Army, basically. They have a lot of people in a lot of counties, a lot of areas in our state who are really passionate about this issue and want to partner with us to staff some events.  Another thing that I do in my own personal life is I'm always equipped to register voters.  I have voter registration forms everywhere.  

I will go out with my colleagues and it's amazing how many times you are having a conversation with somebody about medical care and a CRCF and you say oh just checking, did you want to register to vote and they have not been offered that opportunity, ever, in their engagement with staff and advocates.  So I think it's a good policy to carry them around and always be ready to have that conversation with somebody.   

We have had good luck with registration for voters in facilities because this is just not something that comes up very often.  When you have people who are residents.  It's just not on anybody's radar.  So you have to be ready to do the upstart work and the bulk of the work yourself but there are a lot of people that are living in facilities at least in our state who would like to vote, but it kind of gets kicked to the back of their minds when they're living in a facility and the staff when we bring it up is very receptive, almost universally to providing that service with support, with our support, but it's just not something that occurs to folks as a necessity.  

And a lot of people as Christina alluded to, have some myth and disinformation that's infiltrated about who is able to vote and what goes on in facility and who has what right.  

So that he is a big one for us.  We have found it to be fruitful in our efforts.  We have also made a priority to conduct outreach directed at younger voters.  We have all heard the statistics that young people don't vote at the rate of our older population, so I'm going to move to this next slide that's specifically about engaging younger voters and I will give Christina the opportunity to talk about her efforts after I go through this.  

We have reached out to high schools and universities to provide voter registration forms and if they will let me in to chat about it that's even better but we provide them the materials and the script about registering to vote.  Introducing voter registration into transition counseling, done by caseworkers, that was something that we wanted to have happen because we were getting a lot of calls about transition services.  So we said, your Honor, if there are all these caseworkers.  

They are doing this transition counseling it would be great if we could have a spiel about voter registration and call us if you have trouble with it or if you have questions but just a blush in there, the state agency that that is supervising that were receptive to us. .  Rural outreach very important.  In our state we're talking about the sub is your ban areas tend to be more robust, accessible places for people to go to register.  So we have a goal of reaching those rural areas.  

That is where the opportunities are much less for voter registration.  Then I spoke briefly about registration efforts for eligible voters in facilities. What we did because we are the P&A and we have access authority is to engage with my colleagues to talk about how we do that in the facilities that they're monitoring.  I'm sure if you are not part of the P&A network that your P&A monitoring staff would be excited to talk to you about voting for people in facilities.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  That was responsive to a question we had in the chat, a voting rights attorney working in Alabama, engaging with the Alabama Department of Mental Health to get folks registered to vote -- sorry, I'm trying to scroll but it moves so fast sometimes it's hard.  The question is are there practical considerations for getting residents registered and training facility staff.  Erin spoke to that.  As the P&A and with the facilities and depending the level of security, there are ways you can communicate like have on your schedule every -- a month before every election.  

Or a month before every voter registration, deadline, send out a bulk mailing to all the facilities that you want to reach out to with general information like the technical assistance for the facility staff and also a flyer that you include that the facility can post.  There is no guarantee that it will get reviewed in any way but if you reach one facility you can make a difference, an incremental difference.  

Even incremental differences are better than no differences at all.  

So just because you're not having a wildly successful outreach or engagement with facility staff doesn't mean your efforts are in vein.  We do just that, when I described every year.  We can't physically go to monitor all the facilities, right?  That's impossible. We are so -- we don't have the resources to do that.  But we send out a letter every year and we send out an updated flyer.  Our laws are ever-changing, in some ways they get more expansive or less expansive, they impact voter registration in some minor way.  
So we update on new laws and we share that information by letter and then we want to share that information with the people at the facility in hopes that they will post our flyer on their bulletin boards or a central location.  I will say we have gotten people that -- in the Department of Corrections facility which is our state prison system we have gotten -- I know facilities are posting because we have gotten letters from people who are in the facilities who either want information for themselves or want it for just to have the knowledge.  

We also send this information to all the county jails and we have helped people at county jails register to vote by mail.  We do it through correspondence by mail.  I hope that gives you some insight as to how to get through to the facilities but also manage expectations based on your own bandwidth.  

ERIN HAIRE:  I will say I'm going to have -- we're going to have our contact information up.  Call us, because I do have -- I can talk for hours about the intersection of our monitoring duties and kind of the outreach that we need to be doing in voting so do reach out, I think both of us would be happy to talk about that.  We are a little short on time so I think we should kind of run through that he is last slides fairly quickly.  

Voting litigation as Christina alluded to, we are not allowed to use our voting fund for litigation.  Other P&As have figured out how to bill this as -- in other ways.  So she will speak to that.  I can talk a little bit about organizational plaintiff status because we have been approached by other groups and bring us on as an organizational plaintiff and we had to go through research and consulting as to whether that was appropriate or not.  

And so I have a big cash of materials, it's pretty dry materials but if there are folks interested in learning about that in terms of voting litigation, let me know. I'm happy to share.  

Then where we were not brought on as an organizational plaintiff, we were able to support litigation from other partners in terms of expert testimony, kind of serves as that subject matter expert.  We wrote a couple of briefs and there are ways to get involved in litigation that you support and think would benefit your clients without violating your PAVA requirements.  

So Christina can speak a little bit more about the litigation piece.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  I'm not going to go into too much depth about it but if you are in the conversation today and not part of the P&A network, you don't have the same limitations, but -- and I will say that NFB and the ACB have been absolutely instrumental in moving the voting program accessibility pendulum in our favor to make voting programs more accessible.  

Voting change happens at a policy level but it also very much changes at the court -- in the courtroom, so being a plaintiff is an absolutely I object credible work.  It's important work and yeah, DRNY has found ways to build voting litigation into our litigation-based programs.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Briefly a little bit about our policy efforts, like I said earlier, this is kind of more of an area of emphasis for us.  

Of course, when you are part of an organization that is getting the funding its getting, you have to be cognizant of the fine line between advocacy and lobbying so we go at this from an education perspective.  Education, education, education, the slide says.  And that's contained of the way we approach our policy work.  We do work with a lobbyist who gives us advice about the trends, what he's seeing.  

And he has excellent skills and is very, very talented and benefits us a lot.  But we see our role as providing information about how potential legislation is going to affect our clients and people with disabilities in the state.  So staying diligent when legislation is introduced is extremely important.  The way to do that is to get on every email list you can and kind of monitor that quickly because we have seen things pop up very, very quick and come to committee very, very quickly with very little time for us to prepare.  So staying on top of that is key.  Then establishing your organization as the experts in this area.  We want people to call us and ask us questions.  

What affect is this legislation going to have on people with disabilities?  And how I have established us as such is I chimed in on every piece of material that came to me.  I would get an email from the League of Women Voters, I would get email from a state agency talking about a piece of legislation that was rumbling around.  I would respond to every one of them saying you need to consider how this is going to affect our clients and our population of people with disabilities.  Now I have conditioned them to say Erin how is this going to affect voters with disabilities in South Carolina?  That goes for our state legislators and community partners that are not disability focused like the League of Women Voters.  

Christina do you have anything to add?  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  No, except if you are interested in this topic I will pitch a future training that National Disability Rights is putting on in early June at their conference.  Erin and I are both part of this conversation with another organization that's going to be really going into that gray area of where education and lobbying sort of get entwined and how you can draw the line between the two.  

I think this is increasingly more difficult to sort of straddle the issue.  We have to be very direct and as a nonprofit status it is something that we have to be increasingly more aware of so we don't run the risk of jeopardizing any sort of federal funding or any 501C(3) status.  

ERIN HAIRE:  Good plug.  It's a very fine line.  One of the things that our lobbyist is good for is telling us where we need to have those limitations.  Our clients tend to come from the avenues of support and structure, that's how our clients hear about us so we have been more aware of reaching out to rural communities and that's another area where our partnerships are key including our state partners.  That's true the ones who have the staffing and the reach out into those comments.  

And it's perfectly appropriate to try and leverage those to gain entry to talk about voting and to talk about those issues and the rural areas are really where we see the problems with accessibility.  They don't have the options in terms of their infrastructure that the more urban areas do.  

So a lot of times they need some particular attention in those areas.  We also want to consider these communities while doing policy advocacy, and people in Charleston have a whole different bag of issues with regard to voting accessibility than they do in other counties, for instance, so it's important when you give information to your staff you consider the disparate affect in rural versus urban areas.  And I think it's important to have goals and information.  

And you can share that based on those communities' needs.  I come from a long history of nonprofit work, and several of the organizations that I worked for suffered under this kind of belief that we are doing good work so there never is a need to kind of self-examine.  And I think that that is something that pleases me a lot since coming to the Disability Rights of South Carolina that we do the work and we are faithful to the goals and priorities and they need to be enumerated and we understand the importance of that.  Christina, please add to that.  You said no. 

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  I don't have anything to add.  

ERIN HAIRE:  I will move along.  In conclusion, we would love to talk about this with you gaze privately, past this presentation.  It's really beneficial -- has been beneficial to us to be creative and think outside the box with advocacy and diversifying those efforts kind of reaching out is always worthwhile even if it's not as successful as you always want.  Again, I'm going to say to utilize your partners, including your out-of-state counterparts.  I can want tell you how fruitful my professional relationship with Christina has been.  We were brought together about by a project and we supported each other through that but then have come to rely on each other to bounce ideas off and reenergize each other.  I think that we would both -- and I know my colleagues in other states would be open to chatting about ideas, just brainstorming if you're not in the P&A network that is fine.  We would love to hear some other efforts that are happening.  And we also just would like to encourage participation on the local level.  That is where we see the most pay-off for our clients in terms of their vote and their access.  

CHRISTINA ASBEE:  I really want to reiterate that.  I want everybody in this small group to leave with the idea that local elections are the most important.  In terms of our advocacy.  I can't stress it enough.  I think increasingly it's become more apparent.  We are talking about issues that -- they're local issues but they affect all parts of our community in some way or another.  Access to home care or personal care attendance, internet access, school resources that are put into schools to serve the needs of people with disabilities and to accommodate parents or educate ores with disabilities as well, how your local law enforcement react to issues of mental health crisis.  What services are being provided by your county in terms of social services or mental health services.  Sidewalks in your community, if your sidewalks are inaccessible that is a local issue.  It affects you every day.  If you walk anywhere.  That is a personal project and I am dealing with that at my local elected leaders.  I also happen to litigate the issue across New York state.  So the local leaders in your communities are the ones that make decisions that are right now probably the most impactful for you, for the community and the people you live with and the comment you serve.  I hope that everybody is charged to go back and make a map.  

Make a map to engage your local leaders and the candidates who are running for local office.  

>> I want to say thank you so much to Christina and Erin for their time and this great  presentation.  Does anyone have questions before I give out their contact information?  All right.  Seeing none and hearing none, Christina Asbee, her contact information is [email protected].  Or by phone, 518-432-7861.  And Erin is E-R-I-N Haire.  Her email is [email protected].  The phone number is 803-542-5136.  

I hope everybody has enjoyed this as much as I have and I hope you did go out and advocate.  We need everybody's vote to count so go do it.  You guys have a wonderful rest of your day.