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Voting Rights Transcript

Disability Rights: Voting in Minnesota.

Created by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid/Minnesota Disability Law Center.

A timeline displays dates of historic events in voting history accompanied by black and white photographs.

1984: Polling places across the United States are required to be physically accessible to people with disabilities. A photo shows a person in a wheelchair waiting in line to vote.

1990: The nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities is passed. A photograph a man in a carrying a sign that says “Achieve, I don’t let my disability stop me”

1993: Congress enacts the National Voter Registration Act to enhance voting opportunities for every American. A photo of former president Bill Clinton signing a bill into law.

2002: The Help America Vote Act passed by Congress addresses improvements to voting systems and voter access. A photo shows people at voting booths.

A large red and white ‘I Voted’ graphic appears onscreen.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

I’m Minnesota Secretary of State Steven Simon. And as our state’s chief elections administrator, it’s my office’s responsibility to protect, defend, and strengthen the right to vote for all Minnesotans. And that includes people with disabilities. Voting is an important right in a democracy and it’s one important way for all people to make their voices heard. Regardless of your political viewpoint or what candidate or party you support, by voting, you have the power to affect change and to mold the future of your community, your state, and your country. Your vote is your voice. And you should never give that up.

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

I think that people with disabilities have an extreme responsibility to vote because it’s one way that we can help get people into office who are going to pay attention to us. Nobody else is gonna do it for us unless we do it ourselves. So we have an—an obligation to both inform elected officials or potential elected officials—and then figure out which ones are most responsive to us.

Ashley Bailey (Self-advocate):

I think voting rights are important because people with disabilities need to be able to know what they want and have the person elected that they feel will do the best to advocate for them

A large red and white ‘Voting is Important’ graphic appears onscreen.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

Voting is crucial in any democracy because our vote is our voice. It’s the way that we hold our leaders accountable and it’s the way that we get things done.

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank (President, MN Association for Deaf Citizens):

Voting rights are important for every person. Because they need to have their voices heard. Many decisions are made for individuals. And it’s the most important right a person can have.

Noah McCourt (Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities):

We present 19 percent of the American electorate. And when you include families, friends, teachers, and all these other individuals that really work in the lives of people with disabilities, you know, it’s a really significant block and they deserve to be represented.

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

I’m proud to live in a state that has the - one of the highest voting percentages in the country.

A large red and white ‘Your Voting Rights’ graphic appears onscreen.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

Unfortunately, there have been barriers to voting in this state and in this country. And before the enactment of a 2002 law called the Help America Vote Act, there was no requirement that polling places actually had equipment and machinery to accommodate voters with disabilities. All that changed with the passage of that law. And I’m proud and pleased to report that Minnesota has been leading the way since then in making sure that we have open, accessible polling places that provide a means for everyone who wishes to vote to vote.

A large red and white ‘Research’  graphic appears onscreen.

Krista Grosland (Advocate for the Disabled Community):

It’s important to me to know what candidates believe regarding disability supports in voting and in day to day life as well. Kind of some of the things I look at is what do these candidates believe about things that are going to impact my daily life.  What do they believe about voter accessibility and the rights of everyone to vote. What do they believe about access to buildings on a daily basis.  And what do they believe about health care.  And any of the other issues that could impact my life daily.

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

So we have an—an obligation to both inform elected officials or potential elected officials—and then figure out which ones are most responsive to us. I find the easiest way to do that is when we work together to do it. And it’s why one of the things I take an active part in in the National Federation of the Blind is contacting elected officials and then I pay attention to who I vote for. That’s my most important issue.

A large red and white ‘Registering to Vote’ graphic appears onscreen.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

I think it’s important that people realize that before you vote, you have to register to vote. Now we’re fortunate in Minnesota that we have a law called Same Day or Election Day Voter Registration. So anyone in Minnesota can show up the day of the actual election and register. But you still do have to register. For those who choose to do it before election day, it’s really never been easier to register uh than it is now. You don’t have to put pen to paper unless you want to. You don’t have to visit a government office unless you want to. You can now go to a website: mnvotes.org. That’s mnvotes.org. and you can go and register online, which takes most people just a few minutes. These are just some of the ways in which Minnesota continues to open the doors wide to people not only to enter the polling place physically but to participate in the democratic process. And it’s a reason I suspect why Minnesota is either number one, year in and year out in voter turnout, or very close to the top of the list.

A large red and white ‘How to Vote’ graphic appears onscreen.

How to vote:

Physically accessible place

Help if needed

Accessible voting machine

Curbside voting

Voting assistance in the booth

Get out the Vote!

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

For voters with disabilities there are a number of different options at the polling place. First, if there’s some absence of accessibility or a problem in getting to vote we really recommend that the person talk to an election official, an election judge, in the polling place itself. Uh a person with disabilities who’s voting can bring something with him or her into the polling place under state and federal law to assist that person in voting. And under federal law, there’s a requirement that each and every polling place have assistive voting technology in place. So that people with disabilities of all kinds can vote free from any interference.

Voter assistant:

“And I’m going to get the headphones and a handheld device.”

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

”Thank you.”

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

The first time I voted using one of the machines that has a headset and so I can listen to what’s on the ballot and then there are buttons that I can push to cast my ballot. I was able to do this completely independently and it was an awesome kind of overwhelming feeling. And I’ve always voted that way ever since. And am now taking an active part in trying to see what the future holds for other voting machines.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

In addition, Minnesota has what’s commonly known as curbside voting. Which means someone can show up outside the polling place, have an agent or a family member of some kind, go inside and have the ballot brought out to the voters with disability in their vehicle. That’s another way that state and federal law accommodate voters with disabilities.

A large red and white ‘Barriers to Voting’ graphic appears onscreen.

Mai Thor (Disability community advocate):

The whole election process um is doesn’t address all our needs. Um you know we do have some really good laws that protect us and help us um and encourage us to vote. But I think you know um if you have a cognitive disability um it might be that you have difficulty um reading and writing and you know registering is so incumbent on those skills.

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

I took it for granted that I could always vote, but until 20—2006, I always had to vote with assistance. Because as a blind person I’m not able to read the ballot. So it required another person to read it and mark it. I had to trust that they were doing what I said. And to my knowledge that’s not a problem but I probably would never know if it was.

Noah McCourt (Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities):

Do we have um wheel chair ramps? Do we have um different methods of opening doors?  Do we have adaptive technology that can be understood by individuals with disabilities?  And I think that those are gonna be key issues in the future and they’ve been key issues in the past.

Ashley Bailey (Self advocate):

People with disabilities have issues voting because the polling places may not be accessible and they might not have the equipment accessible for people with disabilities to vote privately. Like the general public.

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank (President, MN Association for Deaf Citizens):

Yes, they experience many barriers. For example, just having accessibility, getting into a polling place.  Maybe the ballots are not in their language. Or the people at the polling place don’t have practice communicating with disabled people. If a deaf person or a deaf blind person comes in, then maybe they don’t have an SSP, Support Service Provider.  So having access and just communicating in the polling place is difficult.

Noah McCourt (Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities):

Know there is a lot of stigma out there, there’s a lot of different barriers that come from that stigma.

Justin Page (Attorney at Mid Minnesota Legal Aid):

We came across this election site where the voting took place on the second floor of a library.  The problem was that you had to take an elevator to get up to the second floor.  And a big sign on the elevator that said “elevator’s locked during the day.”  And so it didn’t work.  And so an individual if he or she tried to vote,  on that day at that precinct, would not have been able to do so.

A large red and white ‘Resolving Problems’ graphic appears onscreen.

Ashley Bailey (Self advocate):

I think that after you vote, you should talk to the person in charge at the polling place. And tell them what went wrong. But also after you leave there, I think you should contact a county official to tell them about the experience you did have and what went wrong.

Justin Page (Attorney at Mid Minnesota Legal Aid):

If something goes wrong during the voting process, I just advise that the voter try not to leave the voting area. Try to talk to the head election official there.  If that doesn’t work, potentially try to call the county, or the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office and talk to someone there to try to resolve your issue.  And if that all doesn't work, they can call our office, the Minnesota Disability Law Center, and we can try and resolve that issue.

Mai Thor (Disability community advocate):

The fortunate thing about Minnesota is that we have a lot of really good election laws that help um people in situations like that where they can you know ask for assistance or maybe bring someone along to help them when they’re voting or what whether they’re registering to vote. I in essence the—the real challenge at the foundation of it is that you know at some point, we want to set up our system where anybody no matter what your disability can just do it.

Steve Simon (Minnesota Secretary of State):

We are very active in an ongoing basis in making sure that we help local election officials follow the law. That’s federal law, that’s state law, and these are the requirements that make sure that anyone in Minnesota regardless of disability status can vote. Part of that job is simply telling people—both the voting public and election administrators what the rules actually are. And it also means guiding voters with disabilities uh towards the ways that they can make things better.

A large red and white ‘I Voted’ graphic appears onscreen.

Mai Thor (Disability community advocate):

Voting is just one of those fundamental rights. A basic right that any person has, you know, any citizen has in this country, and should be able to exercise to their fullest extent.

Noah McCourt (Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities):

We all have our different classes… our different races. But the one thing we all have is we all have one vote. And I think that that counts a lot towards what we are as Americans and towards a society that is representative of the people.

Ashley Bailey (Self advocate):

Voting rights are important to all people. And to ensure that we feel like we are getting the people who represent us the best.

Justin Page (Attorney at Mid Minnesota Legal Aid):

People with disabilities should have their voices heard on a number of different issues that impact them. So it’s very important to vote.

Judy Sanders (Advocate for the blind):

Voting is the key to our future.

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank (President, MN Association for Deaf Citizens):

Voting rights are for everyone… including us.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid/Minnesota Disability Law Center, the dedicated Protection & Advocacy, would like to thank the following:

Jessica Akerman-Frank

 Sarah Hoggard (Jessica Akerman-Frank’s interpreter)

Ashley Bailey

John Farrell

Terry Faust

Krista Grosland

Pamela Hoopes

Noah McCourt

Justin Page

Secretary of State Steve Simon

Judy Sanders

Mai Thor

Dave Triplett

Thanks to:

Bruce Fredericksen

Joel Fredericksen

Jon Kranzler

Juli Manser

Colleen Wieck

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