Texas Republicans Target Disabled People In Their Quest To Suppress The Vote

By: Dom Kelly, Fair Fight Action

With Republican-led state legislatures across the country actively restricting the freedom to vote in the wake of historic turnout from Black and brown and young voters in the 2020 election, Texas Republicans have become especial purveyors of voter suppression.

One of the omnibus anti-voter bills, Senate Bill 7 seeks to make it harder for disabled voters in multiple ways, including requiring disabled voters applying for mail ballots due to disability to make a new affirmation of their disability on the application which is requiring the disclosure of sensitive, private medical information in order to vote by mail. As a disabled person myself, diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy after brain damage at birth, I have had to explain my right to accommodations in nearly all facets of society my whole life. As a student in school, I had to prove year after year to teacher after teacher why I needed to leave class five minutes early, why I had a pass to use the elevator, why I needed to spend hours of my week getting physical therapy and more. Each time I was expected to do something inaccessible to me, I had to prove I was disabled enough to receive appropriate accommodations. Most people outside of my family saw me as an inspiration. But when the same people were expected to make accommodations, I was made to bear the responsibility of explaining why they should. Access wasn’t just provided to individuals like me — it was met with conditions and skeptical curiosity.

My story is not unique: disabled Americans have long been expected to prove we are disabled enough while nondisabled people have dangled access before us like it was a gift to be earned. While many disabilities like mine are physical and visible, many are not. And people with hidden disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental health disabilities often have to defend themselves more frequently. Additionally, there are many people who identify as disabled without proper medical diagnoses; they usually have to face scrutiny and doubt — even from the very doctors meant to help them.

Disabled individuals face this type of ableism in some way every day, largely going unnoticed. And now with the proposal of SB 7, disabled Texans who require assistance when voting may be forced to put themselves at risk once more in their attempt to participate in our democratic process. This harmful legislation would burden disabled Texans by requiring anyone assisting a voter with their mail ballot to fill out a new form attesting to the reason why the voter needed assistance, which in many cases is sensitive and private medical information the government should not require to disclose..

Moreover, SB 7 would result in fewer polling places in areas where a higher percentage of the population has one or more disabilities, which is further exacerbated by the fact the bill makes curbside voting (frequented by disabled voters) more difficult by requiring those who give “rides-to-the-polls” for three or more curbside voters to fill out new, unnecessary paperwork, creating liabilities for community organizers. The legislation also allows partisan poll watchers to film voters who require assistance at the polls if the watcher “reasonably believes” that the assistance is unlawful, forcing disabled people to defend themselves from harmful accusations and compromising their right to privacy. Partisan poll watchers would also be allowed to observe curbside voting. In the state with the largest number of uninsured Americans in the country and where lawmakers have failed to expand Medicaid for over a decade, it’s unconscionable to think disabled and chronically ill people would be targeted in this way.

The 2020 election amid the Covid-19 pandemic provided many disabled people a greater opportunity to participate in our democracy. But now that access could be limited. A recent Election Assistance Commission report about voting accessibility for disabled people in the 2020 elections found that 11.4% of disabled voters experienced difficulties voting which is down from 26.1% in 2012. Further, the report showed that “…the rate of difficulties for voters with disabilities is about twice as high both among in-person voters (18% compared to 10%) and mail voters (5% compared to 2%).” Disabled voters experienced more difficulties voting in person than they did by mail, and yet Texas Republicans want to make it harder for them to vote in an accessible way. Why? Texas Republicans, in a broader effort to suppress the votes of Black and brown and younger Americans who tend to vote for Democrats, have shown yet again that they will stop at nothing to preserve their waning power. The sponsors of this bill, most of whom likely have a family member or friend who is disabled, have made it clear they do not care about disabled people’s voices. Governor Greg Abbott, a wheelchair user himself and staunch advocate for SB 7, is willing to single out and unfairly target members of his own community. One in four Americans identifies as having a disability, and according to the CDC, 25.6% of adults in Texas identify as disabled. SB 7 would unfairly burden millions of disabled Texans all because lawmakers believe they have a right to information that is, frankly, none of their business.

Let’s be clear: Republicans know when everyone has equitable access to the ballot box, they are less likely to hold onto their power. The historic 2020 election proves when people are provided the opportunity to vote in a free, fair and safe election that is accessible to them, they elect leaders who meet them where they are and work to level the playing field. Disabled Texans deserve better; all Texans deserve better — it is critical we stop SB 7 in Texas and all anti-voter legislation nationwide from rolling back the clock on voting rights.

Today, as Texas Republicans are advancing SB 7, legislation that directly targets disabled voters, Fair Fight Action launched a Disability Council made up of a diverse group of disability advocates. Members include Fair Fight Action’s Dom Kelly, former Congressman Tony Coelho, Tory Cross, Sarah Blahovec, Emily Blum, Patrick Cokley, Matthew Cortland, Colleen Flanagan, Jules Good, Claudia Gordon, Mia Ives-Rublee, Ted Jackson, Emily Ladau, Andraéa LaVant, Vilissa Thompson, Zan Thornton, Gaylon Tootle, Emily Voorde, and Tiffany Yu.

Fair Fight Action’s Disability Council calls on the Texas Legislature and Governor Greg Abbott to oppose SB 7 and protect their own.

--

--

Join us in the fight for free and fair elections. A joint account of Fair Fight and Fair Fight Action. fairfight.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Fair Fight Action

Join us in the fight for free and fair elections. A joint account of Fair Fight and Fair Fight Action. fairfight.com