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Do You Know What’s at Stake in the Upcoming Election?

Now that you are registered to vote, do you know what’s at stake on November 6th? So many issues facing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are being debated at the local, state and federal level – you just need to tune in to learn.

Take the Presidential race – did you watch last week’s debate in Denver, Colorado on television? Both candidates talked about their views on Medicaid – the lifeline for people with IDD. And the Affordable Care Act, the new health care law that will bring about comprehensive reforms that will benefit Americans with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination based on health status and improving access to care, was hotly debated. If you missed it, you have two more chances to hear from President Obama and Governor Romney (and their running mates have a debate scheduled too).

In late September, the campaigns sent representatives to speak on their behalf at the National Forum on Disability Issues in Columbus, Ohio. This was the only chance both campaigns had to talk about disability-specific issues in the context of what they would do as President. If you missed watching it live online, you can go to the Forum’s website to watch it and find other materials.

You can also educate yourself by going to the candidate’s websites:

Now is your last chance to get educated before you cast your ballot in this election – get the facts!

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Register to Vote: The First Step to Empowering Yourself

With elections around the corner we are all being inundated with advertisements from both ends of the political spectrum. All the focus seems to be on the candidates when the most important people in any election are the voters. That’s right – you are the most important part of this election.

Too often we forget that voting is not only a right but a way to empower ourselves. Our vote represents our beliefs and our hopes for our nation. It is also an opportunity for us to tell those leading our country what we expect them to be doing. It isn’t just about what is happening in Washington, DC, the right to vote can influence what happens in your backyard. Each time you vote you empower yourself, and you make sure that your opinion matters.

Take the first step to empowering yourself and register to vote today!

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Standing Up for Voting Rights

By Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director, The Arc Minnesota

The voting rights of persons with disabilities are in jeopardy across the nation. Laws and constitutional amendments to restrict the access of people to the polls have been passed in numerous states already. Here in Minnesota, voters will decide in the November elections whether to require all voters to have a photo ID and to change other Election Day procedures that will create unnecessary barriers to voting.

In Minnesota, challenges to voting rights have also surfaced in the courts. Fortunately, disability advocates saw a victory in an August 17 ruling by the U.S. Federal Court in St. Paul. U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed a lawsuit filed by several state legislators, individuals, and organizations who have worked to restrict voting rights. The lawsuit asked the court to limit the right to vote of people under guardianship, including people with disabilities. If the lawsuit were upheld, it would have run counter to current Minnesota law, which presumes that people with disabilities retain their right to vote, unless a court specifically takes that right away.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center, the federal protection and advocacy agency in this state, filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief to the judge hearing the case. It cited the legal and legislative basis for the presumption that people with disabilities under guardianship have the right to vote. The Arc Minnesota signed on to this brief, which the judge said provided a “comprehensive overview and history of Minnesota guardianship law.”

The plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit will appeal the judge’s ruling. In the meantime, The Arc Minnesota and other disability advocates are celebrating this victory in the courts. Our efforts will continue to protect the rights of people with disabilities to have a voice in whom their elected officials are. These will include statewide efforts to defeat the voter restriction amendment on this fall’s ballot, and educating the public and the media about the right of people with disabilities to have a say in issues that touch their daily lives. Let’s all fight efforts like these that push people with disabilities back into the shadows of society.

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For People With IDD, Absentee Ballots May Be the Way to Go

The 2012 national elections are fast approaching and it is vital that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who care about them get involved in the political process to help protect their interests. Whether it is a local, state or national election, advocates for people with IDD have a responsibility to educate candidates about the issues and vote for those candidates who support the legislation which allows people with IDD to live and be included in their communities with the appropriate supports.

One of the easiest ways to get involved in the political process is by simply voting. For people with IDD, this can sometimes be a challenge. Even for people without disabilities, there are many reasons why they feel like they just can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. Have you heard (or used) any of these reasons for not voting?

  • I have medical problems or conditions that make it hard to leave the house or wait in line at the polls (and the lines will be too long!)
  • I don’t drive and I don’t have anyone who can take me there and back or the bus or subway routes don’t go near my polling place
  • I have to work that day, I have an appointment that day, I have to stay home with my child/loved one that day.
  • The voting booths can be intimidating/ I’m worried I won’t know how to use the machine and the poll workers might not understand my disability and be willing to help me figure it out.
  • I’m afraid the poll workers won’t let me vote – maybe they won’t understand me if I have difficulty speaking or maybe they’ll say I’m not qualified.

Those are all common and understandable reasons that cause people to give up their constitutional right to vote. Luckily, there may be a simple answer to every single reason on this list (and just about any others you can think of). Absentee ballots! Absentee ballots can allow people to vote using a mailed ballot with which they can take time to read and re-read and think about their choices if necessary, get assistance with filling out the forms from caregivers or family members and not have to worry about getting to the polls on election day. Each state is somewhat different in their absentee voting processes and procedures so contact your local board of elections to find out more and get your absentee ballot. Make your mark this election day!

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Nonprofits Lifting Our Voices – Vote November 6!

This November, voters will elect the president, 33 U.S. senators, every member of the House of Representatives, and countless others in state and local races. 220 million Americans are eligible to vote, including over 25 million young people and new citizens eligible for the first time. But who will turnout?

Voter turnout will be the key, not just to who wins, but to what voters and which communities are heard after Election Day. In 2010, 6 of 10 eligible voters didn’t turnout, and a disproportionate number were younger and lower income.

Many don’t vote because they are not asked to or reminded by a friend or organization close to them. Small things, like forgetting to request a mail ballot or missing a registration deadline, can get in the way.

Our nonprofits can change that. We are a powerful civic force whose status as trusted messengers and personal relationships with the people we serve every day has the potential to reach and engage large underrepresented populations. Whether your agency helps 10 families, houses 200 residents, or serves 5,000 people, you can improve the lives of your clients and constituents by encouraging them to be active in the democratic process.

Nonprofit VOTE makes it easy with clear and concise resources and materials to help you learn how to encourage voter participation. Nonprofit voter engagement can take a variety of forms: you can register voters, educate your clients and constituents about the voting process, engage candidates, or take a stand on a ballot measure. Browse our resources and get started today!

Together, we can raise our voices and encourage everyone to become a voter in 2012. As Susan Dreyfus, the president of the Alliance for Children and Families asked, “Who better than the nonprofit human services sector to embrace participation in the democratic process as a part of how we achieve our missions?”

George Pillsbury is the founder and Director of Nonprofit VOTE, as well as the author of “Nonprofits, Voting, and Elections: A Guide to Nonpartisan Voter Engagement for 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organizations”. He also founded and directed MassVOTE and started several foundations dedicated to community uplift. His work in the fields of philanthropy, social investing, and voter and civic participation spans three decades.