This is an opinion piece by Jason Kander, Missouri's 39th Secretary of State and the president of Let America Vote, an organization dedicated to fighting back against proposals across the country that make it harder for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to cast a ballot.
Now more than ever, state officials need to make sure that all Americans enjoy equal access to the polls. This is National Disability Voter Registration Week-- the perfect time to commit to making elections as inclusive and accessible as possible for everyone. It starts with getting folks registered and requires us to take action to save the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission, established through the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to help states improve their elections. It matters because more than 35 million Americans with disabilities -- about one-sixth of voters -- are eligible to vote in the United States. But during the 2012 presidential election, a third of voters with disabilities reported problems at their polling station due to a failure to comply with ADA standards. The EAC works to ensure that those Americans are given the same opportunity to vote freely and independently - a cause that, prior to the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and HAVA, had been grossly neglected.
A few weeks ago, a House committee voted to shut down the EAC by 2018, and its fate is still in question. This assault on the protections of our democracy would be horrible for our disabled family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers.
The EAC has worked closely with election officials to promote access requirements and to teach polling administrators and volunteers how best to assist voters with disabilities. The EAC researches the problems those voters face and then crafts resources for election officials, providing best practices for poll workers and polling places. More importantly, they develop these best practices working directly with folks who have disabilities. Leading up to the 2016 election, the EAC held a widely-attended hearing, where voters with disabilities shared firsthand accounts to help the EAC improve the election process. During its #BeReady16 campaign, the EAC also distributed more than 10,000 federal voting rights cards in Braille, large print, and plain language.
Politicians are trying to justify the move to defund the EAC as a conservative effort to shrink government, but that argument just doesn't hold up. With only 30 employees and a relatively small annual budget, the EAC is a small government agency that has a huge impact on elections. Right now the EAC is working to improve accessibility ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Eliminating the committee could effectively suppress a large bloc of voters who could pose a substantial threat to a Republican-controlled congress, particularly given the GOP's recent health care reform proposals, which have drawn widespread criticism from the disability community.
In short, disabled folks rarely vote Republican, so Republicans don't want them to vote.
Through the EAC's work, we've seen that common-sense solutions can make a huge difference and, ultimately, strengthen our democracy. We're all better off as a country when more Americans vote. It makes our elections more representative of what the people actually want. I ask that you join us in our fight to save the EAC, in solidarity with our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who make up the disability community -- this week and every week.
Folks across the country are marking this week with the REV UP Campaign (Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!). It is one of the many ways voters and activists with disabilities have organized to increase the political power of the disability community. Let's join together and make sure that Americans with disabilities can vote as freely and independently as you and me.