You already know that, as a recipient of federal funds, you can lobby, but can’t use those federal dollars to lobby. You know that your CIL or SILC can’t support or oppose any candidate for office because of your tax-free status with the IRS. But did you know you can and should “Get out the vote”?
Voting is something every center should be addressing. I know it is late for some of these but some are coming up next week. These should routinely be a part of your conversations with an individual consumer.
- Are you registered to vote? Whatever your party and options, staff should be registered voters, and should encourage consumers to register to vote as well. How can we be effective advocates and peer models if we don’t even take time to vote? Advocacy has many layers, but if we are disenfranchised because we don’t take time to be a voter, we are missing the very basis of our democracy. If you don’t know HOW people register, find out. Many centers offer a voter registration card to consumers when they are first interviewed. It is that important!
- How do you make your voting decisions? There are a lot of things on a ballot and not all of them are the people who are arguing so publicly about why you shouldn’t vote for the opposing candidate. A good class for the independent living skill of voting is to go over the voter information packet and make sure the voters have the information they need to make a decision. Some centers invite candidates to a public forum to address questions important to the disability community. Again, you cannot (with federally funded time) encourage a specific vote, but you can share the pros and cons that are published on the issues at hand.
- Do you know where to vote? Hopefully your center has helped with voter access to polling places (a service for which many centers get paid by their county). But to encourage your consumers to vote, and to vote yourself, you need to understand your accessibility options. Does your state allow mail-in ballots? That is an easy fix for many for mobility concerns. It doesn’t give the voter a chance to really participate in voting, to go confidently to the polls and to wear that “I Voted” sticker proudly for the rest of the day. The visible presence of votes with disabilities is a powerful statement. What are the options for blind voters?
- Do you know how to take action when there is a problem? What should voters do if their polling place is inaccessible? Who should they contact, and how can they resolve it? What can be done on election day and what advocacy needs to occur before the next election?
- Do you celebrate the process of voting? Not just the candidate, not only the outcomes, but that you are an active part of the process!