Disability rights advocates across the state of Georgia are getting ready for the November elections. Leaders in the disability community are working to ensure that every voter with disabilities is registered, educated, and prepared to exercise their right to vote. Voters with disabilities hold the power to make a significant difference in upcoming elections.
There are 650,000 people with disabilities of voting age in Georgia—that’s not a number to ignore. With a reasonable estimate of caregivers included, this voting bloc tops one million people, but candidates running for office in local, state, and national elections often forget this voting bloc. As candidates make their way across their districts and across the state, disability rights advocates are encouraging them to slow down and take the time to meet with these voters.
Voters with disabilities hold power to make a real difference in elections, and candidates who recognize this power will benefit on election day from their engagement. Candidates can also help to empower voters by supporting accessible voting.
People with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), face many barriers to voting. Barriers to voting range from inadequate transportation, lack of access to information on candidates and issues, lack of accommodations at polling locations, and blatant discrimination. Even though there are laws in place meant to protect the right to vote for people with disabilities, there is a significant effort to repeal voter protections. Voter suppression is not new, and advocates for voting equality have been fighting against it for more than 100 years. In addition to disability discrimination, voter suppression has been used to limit the ability of people to vote based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status. While there are many discouraging factors when thinking about voting, disability advocates are enthusiastically encouraging people with disabilities to prepare to participate in the November elections. This message is being shared through the REV UP Georgia campaign. REV UP is an acronym standing for Register, Educate, Vote, Use your Power, and state leaders are helping people with disabilities to REV UP. Registration is often the first step to engaging voters with IDD. You must be registered in your state in order to participate in an election. Deadlines to register to vote are weeks ahead of elections, so it’s important that all voters are registered on time.
REV UP Georgia is a statewide nonpartisan voting initiative focused on advancing the power of the disability vote. To support voter education and reach voters in rural Georgia, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) awarded a Get Out the Vote grant to Crimminz and Associates, a consulting firm, led by Stacey Ramirez, previously with The Arc Georgia, and Daniel Crimmins, previously with the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. Both Ramirez and Crimmins have a long history of disability advocacy in Georgia. Ramirez has been intimately involved in voting rights for people with disabilities for more than ten years, first as a supporter before becoming co-chair of REV UP Georgia.
Gaylon Tootle, a blind, disability rights advocate who passed away in September, was the co-chair, and the heart, of REV UP. Tootle, a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities, shared his message on voting rights, saying “We are here to simply educate, empower, and have general discussions with people. Making sure that they are registered and that they understand what the issues are.”
One of the main things we discuss in disability advocacy is systemic advocacy and systemic change. The only way that you will be creating systemic, effective change is by going to vote.
–Jessica Mathis, REV UP Georgia Community Connector
When Ramirez began working on voting rights, she recalls hearing that people with disabilities and their families didn’t know how much of a difference their voices could make in elections. “People didn’t seem to realize that their voice mattered in those spaces. That was very much appalling to me as a disability rights advocate. We need to share that ‘your voice matters in all places, especially at the polls.’ Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, we were hearing that the board of elections didn’t realize that they had the obligation to uphold the Americans with Disabilities Act to make the ballot and polling locations accessible. So, we began having conversations with local boards of elections and the state board of elections,” said Ramirez. Part of REV UP’s approach is to partner with likeminded organizations—including organizations like the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), American Civil Liberties Union, Walton Options, LIFE, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and individual donors—to reach the community through digital outreach and in-person connection. Crimminz and Associates, LLC has organized and trained community connectors, specifically targeting rural areas of Georgia, who will engage with community members, leaders, and officials as the countdown to November 8 continues.
What we do is educate voters on their voting rights. We work as an advocate to get their voice heard and their vote counted. We want to get as many people as possible with disabilities to the polls.
–Lee Jones, REV UP Georgia Community Connector
The Crimminz group works alongside ten community connectors—trusted local leaders—to participate in a nonpartisan engagement strategy. These community connectors are compensated for their work. They conduct outreach on multiple levels from spending time as a 1-on-1 resource with community members, voter registration, participating in webinars, conducting webinars on voter education, attending community meetings or events, and meeting with candidates and election officials. Community connectors know that people with disabilities are not the only group in need of outreach ahead of the November elections, election officials do too. Reaching election officials can help to secure accommodations and accessible polling facilities in their local area by ensuring officials are aware of requirements.
REV UP Georgia also hosted a webinar series throughout September and October titled “Power the Disability Vote.” This webinar series covered topics such as making voting plans, finding polling places, understanding ballots, understanding accommodations required at polls, and getting assistance at polls. Uniting for Change, Georgia’s grassroots network of self-advocates, also focused on voter education leading up to the election with a three-part workshop series titled “Our Voice, Our Vote.”
Dates to Remember:
October 17: Early voting begins for November election
November 8: Election day
Voting: A way to make decisions. It gets used to choose elected officials, pass laws, or making other kinds of choices.
Ballot: A list of who and what you can vote for.
Election: You vote for laws and elected officials during an election. There are two main kinds of Elections: primary elections and general elections. November 8 is the 2022 general election.
Polling place: Somewhere people go to vote.
Voter suppression: Unfair laws and other tricks that keep people from voting.
Source: ASAN Your Vote Counts: A Self-Advocates Guide to Voting in the U.S.
Find Sample Ballots: Branch.Vote
Find Your Elected Officials: OpenStates
Check Your Voter Registration Status: https://mvp.sos.ga.gov/s/
Voting Assistance for People with Disabilities: https://sos.ga.gov/page/voting-assistance-people-disabilities
REV UP Voting Campaign: https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/
Georgia Advocacy Office Voter Protection Hotline: 404-885-1234 or 1-800-537-2329