MONTPELIER – Vermonters with disabilities are speaking out on the barriers that make it harder for them to cast ballots as part of an innovative project undertaken by Disability Rights Vermont and the Secretary of State.
Ten focus groups throughout the state gathered over 120 Vermonters with disabilities for feedback, along with allies and caregivers.
The concerns listed in the project go far beyond accessibility at polling locations.
“In our focus groups, nearly every single one of them would say that transportation is an issue, the lack of access to reliable transportation,” said Merry Postemski, a senior investigator with Disability Rights Vermont. “In our more rural communities, public transportation was an issue. Many people in our focus groups were also not aware that there’s curbside voting available to them.”
Vermonters with disabilities said they face challenges at nearly every step of the voting process, including limited accessible parking, and a lack of knowledge about the different ways in which Vermont allows voters to cast ballots. Some focus group participants said they don’t vote because it’s hard to get reliable information in a format that’s accessible to them.
“What we hear is I don’t have enough information on who to vote for, so maybe I shouldn’t vote or I won’t vote, things like that,” Postemski said. Every general election we publish a voters guide, we plan to do that again. It includes statements from national and state elected offices.”
Although nationwide voter turnout increased in the 2018 Midterm Elections, the rate is much lower for people with disabilities. In Vermont, some progress has been made, with a jump from 31.2 percent turnout in 2014, to roughly 45 percent in 2018. The focus groups, however, have shown there’s still a lot to be done.
“Providing that information in a variety of different ways, a variety of different media types,” Postemski said. “A big one is providing public service announcements on the radio, getting the information out there. The second prong to that is getting information in a way accessible to people.”
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has worked to increase voting accessibility during his time in office, and weighed in on the project’s findings.
“We will continue to do everything we can to remove barriers to registration and voting for all Vermont voters, including those with disabilities who face greater challenges to exercise their right to vote,” Condos said.
More information on the different ways Vermonters with disabilities can cast a ballot may be found here. VPIRG has also released a video detailing the process for voting by mail in the August primary.
Disability Rights Vermont is able to assist with disability-related voting questions or requests for assistance at 1-800-834-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.