Keeping Polls Open

Tuesday the 24th marked New York’s 2012 Republican presidential primary. The last elections to wrap up this year are the state primary on June 26th,with a registration deadline of June 1, and then comes the general election on November 6th, with a registration deadline of October 12th. When the time comes to head to the polls and vote, try to imagine your only means of doing so is while in a wheelchair or without the use of your eyes, your ears, or possibly your hands, or any wide array of substantially limiting factors you wouldn’t otherwise face. You are now in the boat of over 2.7 million (19%) adult New Yorkers with disabilities according to a 2003 study of individuals from ages 18 to 65 and older by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of New York state’s Department of Health. For individuals with disabilities who wish to take part in the democratic process at the polling site, many more obstacles beyond simply getting to the ballot box become clear. While going to vote, have you noticed whether or not the entrance to the facility was a minimum of 36 inches wide with a threshold of no more than a quarter inch high? Or whether the site itself as well as the handicap parking was made clearly visible and accessible? These are some of the minimum guidelines placed in election law by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 to help ensure individuals with disabilities an independent and private vote. When you go out to vote in the future, please consider taking note of some of these key features. If not for yourself, think about the relative or friend who may need such accommodations now or in the future. It only takes an inch too much of a barrier of one form or another to bar a population of the citizenry that has just as much of a stake, if not more, in the actions and results of political decisions made by those in power. Any constituency unable to make its voice heard at the polling site when the time comes is likely to find its message falling upon deaf ears if they themselves cannot come to move elections. Organized and collective participation is what has and remains the leverage which the people hold to keep elected officials proactive and accountable. The key to keeping such leverage includes accessibility for all voters.

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