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Placing Stumbling Blocks Before People with Disabilities: Voting Barriers and Disenfranchisement

Placing Stumbling Blocks Before People with Disabilities: Voting Barriers and Disenfranchisement

Over the past couple of months, my colleagues and I have written about the barriers that prevent many Americans from voting. From voter ID laws to cuts in early voting, minorities are being disproportionately affected by changing voter laws. In addition, people experiencing homelessness,   survivors of domestic violence, and transgender Americans face additional barriers to voting. On top of all of these groups, people with disabilities also face unique challenges to voting in America.

Voter turnout is 11 percentage points lower for people with disabilities than people without disabilities, a disparity that scholars attribute to both a motivational gap due to the isolation of people with disabilities and physical barriers. In fact, a 2012 study found that 30 percent of voters with disabilities reported difficulty voting compared to 8 percent of people without disabilities. A recent publication by the U.S. Department of Justice identifies five common access problems for people with disabilities at polling places: inaccessible parking, sidewalks and walkways, entrances, hallways and voting areas.

These problems may be exacerbated by the fact that some polling places are located in houses of worship or other religious organizations which are exempt from Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act which deals with accessibility in public accommodations and commercial facilities. Furthermore, some voter competency laws limit the voting rights of people with mental disabilities. For example, some states disenfranchise people who are placed under guardianship, even though some individuals who have guardians may completely understand the voting system and be capable of voting.

As Jews and as citizens, we know how important the right to vote is. Reform Jewish activists represent a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights Movement, which pushed for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 amongst other critical civil rights laws and protections, and Jewish values teach us that “a ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 55a)—and that means everybody in the community, including people with disabilities.

In addition, Leviticus 19:14 teaches us that “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Consider helping out to remove stumbling blocks that have been placed before voters with disabilities. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health details how people can assist voters with disabilities. In addition, they offer a one page fact sheet on the right of persons with mental disabilities to vote and the Justice Department offers Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems at Polling Places for election officials.

Published: 10/31/2014

Categories: Social Justice