Home > Election 2010, exclusive > It’s all in the Numbers: A Report About Voter Registration For Individuals with Disabilities

It’s all in the Numbers: A Report About Voter Registration For Individuals with Disabilities

A polling place in Upper Moreland as seen on election day 2010. (Tom Sofield)

Although the elections are over  a new cycle will begin shortly, the issue of voter registration for those with disabilities is an important issue to a number of voter advocates.

Rachel Freund, Project Coordinator for the Disabled Voters Coalition of Pennsylvania is one such advocate. I interviewed Fruend in October, which lead to an article published in the Pennsylvania Peer Support Coalition’s Fall Newsletter.  Subsequently more questions arose than answered. looking into the issue at a deeper level was required. The outcome of which is below.

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison man because they are different from other man”- Lyndon B. Johnson

In 1993 Congress passed a piece of legislation called the National Voters Registration Act (NVRA).  Also known as the “Motor Voter Law,” because voter registration is would be tied to state motor vehicle offices, the law’s application has come under recent scrutiny from voter advocates.  The law is not being correctly applied some  advocates say.

Specifically in provision number eight of NVRA ,  it requires  all state and federally funded agencies to offer voter registration opportunities to the consumers they serve,  and assist with the completion of voter registration when appropriate.

The law set out to make voter registration easier and more accessible for the disabled.

According to the 2000 US Census approximately 2 million voting age individuals have disabilities in Pennsylvania.

And as one disabled voter’s advocate,  Paul O’Hanlon of the Disability Rights Network, noted, “I’d be shocked if 1 percent of the 2 million is actually registered.”

Nonprofit agencies that provide an array of needed services to the disabled are by law supposed to offer the opportunity for voter registration to those they serve. NVRA directs any and all agencies receiving state and or federal funding to do so.

O’Hanlon’s assessment? “They (non-profits) are doing a piss-poor job and the numbers prove it.”

In the counties surrounding the Philadelphia metro area, (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia) during 2009 a total of 429 individuals were registered by all agencies and offices under the auspices of NVRA  according to DOS data.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Since 2006, O’Hanlon and voter advocate Rachel Freund, Project Coordinator for the Disability Voters Coalition of Pa, have tracked voter registrations of the 67 counties that make up the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and of those that are disabled specifically.

As Freund put it, “the numbers are disappointing.” As project coordinator for DVC, Freund with the help of several non-profits in the Allegheny county area, developed voter education trainings to assist and train non-profits about voter registration and the issues endemic to it.

Freund’s work started in 2006, that year the DOS reported no voters registered in Allegheny county by the disabilities services industry (non-profits).  In the two subsequent years, 2007 and 2008, those totals increased by more than 300 percent

O’Hanlon said, “Where Rachel goes, numbers increase, that’s a numerical fact.”  If you follow Freund’s travels through the state and counties in the western part of Pennsylvania a statistical trend becomes clear.“Numbers get an overall bump from her work in targeted areas,” O’Hanlon stated.

Part Two – NVRA, Voter Registration, and Those with Disabilities is there a solution?

Jeff Bohen (jbohen@buxmontnews.com)
Staff Writer-Reporter

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  1. January 16, 2011 at 8:40 PM

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