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Election Access: Making Sure Every Voter Counts

Election Access: Making Sure Every
Voter Counts

The 2020 election is unprecedented in so many ways — and that's especially true for the rapidly growing number of people with disabilities who are eligible to vote. As the coronavirus pandemic heightens health and safety considerations, it has become even more imperative to ensure that all citizens — whether they have a disability or not — can cast their ballots in a safe, secure, independent manner. From a civil rights attorney to a community activist to a guide dog advocate and beyond, we spoke to several members and advocates from the disabled community to learn more about their herculean efforts to cast their ballots and ensure voting accessibility for all.

'Everyone Counts': Two Deaf Students On Voting
For The First Time

After learning about the election and the political process in her government class this year, Shayla Rochette couldn’t wait to get her “I Voted” sticker. She voted early last week in her hometown of Worcester with her mother, who is also deaf. Rochette said that because everyone was wearing a mask and she couldn’t see their lips, it was sometimes difficult to communicate, but the poll workers were helpful, writing down their questions and ensuring that Rochette could cast her ballot.

“It felt like I became an adult in some way,” Rochette said through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

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'There's Actually Young People That Care': One Intersectionalist On Civic Engagement

“I feel like we need people… with disabilities, or who are younger, to be in office,” Zuleny Gonzalez tells me. “If we have a better way [of] coming together and noticing that we have the similar issues or similar, you know, experiences, it will be better for more people.”

Gonzalez might only be 24, but they have a wealth of experience in bringing communities together. From being an activist with Partners for Youth with Disabilities, Black Lives Matter, and Boston’s LGBTQ community, they’re constantly seeking new ways to introduce intersectionality into their communities. A task that would be daunting for most is a task that fires them up.

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'It’s Like Walking On A Tight Rope': One Activist's Passion For Change

Cody Rooney did not allow his cerebral palsy, a global pandemic, or anything else to get in the way of voting in this year's election.

“This is my first presidential election. I’ve voted in town and state before, but I was just 17 or 16, last election,” he says. “[I’m] excited and nervous… it’s like walking on a tight rope.”

Wary of mail-in voting — the ballot box fire in Copley Square earlier this month convinced him of the dangers of the process — Rooney was determined to make it to the polls on Election Day to cast his ballot in person, even if that journey was difficult with his mobility issues. This year, his hometown of Amherst held their polls in a local gymnasium, which he hoped would be more accessible than the previous location in the town’s firehouse.

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'I'm Lucky To Have Had A Lot Of Opportunities': AmeriCorps Advocate On Voting

This year, Elizabeth Gray voted by mail-in ballot.

“It was stressful, because you had to wait to get your ballot. So I was tracking it, trying to figure out where it was. I just felt disconnected… I’m glad that I voted, but it just wasn’t the same energy as if I [had gone to the polls] in person.”

Gray found herself missing the camraderie she had found waiting in line to vote during previous elections. And while social interaction has been scarce for many since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Gray notices it especially keenly as an AmeriCorps Advocate for Mentoring, a job that has traditionally been all about building interpersonal relationships.

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'Don’t Take Your Ability To Vote Easily For Granted': One Blind Voter's Election Experience

Lauren Berglund
Courtesy of Lauren Berglund

Lauren Berglund’s journey to voting this year began back in December, shortly after she moved from her home state of Iowa to Saint James, New York, a small hamlet on the north shore of Long Island about an hour from New York City. At the time, the 2020 election was almost a year away — but based on past experience, Berglund knew that she needed to start getting organized to vote early.

That’s because Berglund, who was born with a genetic condition causing significant vision loss, is legally blind.

“I wanted to be able to vote independently,” she said, as she had done in previous elections in Iowa.

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'We All Have A Right To Be Engaged': Civil Rights Attorney On Making Voting Accessible To All

For more than a decade, Marlene Sallo has been fired up about ensuring all citizens can exercise their right to vote. That's because, growing up in Cuba, she didn't have that right. "I was born in a communist country," she said. "And so, therefore, our rights were pretty much trampled on."

In fact, Sallo was in line to vote on the very first day of early voting for this year's election. "It's a nonpartisan issue, civic engagement, right? We all have a right to be engaged. We all should be engaged."

Sallo served as the Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, as well as the Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under the Obama Administration. Previously, she also worked for UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, as well as serving as a case manager, special education teacher, and child welfare attorney. She is now the Executive Director of the Disability Law Center. "So therein lies the intersection between civil rights and disability rights," she said.

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