More MS news articles for July 2000

Only 81 Days Left to Register to Vote!

Adina Topfer, topfer@nod.org, writes:

If Americans with disabilities vote at the same rate as people without disabilities there would be at least five million additional votes cast November 7, 2000. A major reason for the failure of most Americans with disabilities to vote is that 14 million voting-age Americans with disabilities are not registered to vote. While the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) (http://www.nod.org/vote2000/nvrabackground.html) makes voter registration available at motor vehicle and public assistance agencies, many persons with disabilities are not being reached. For this reason, Section 7a of the NVRA requires all public and private agencies serving people with disabilities to offer voter registration to their clients at in-take, re-certification, and change of address. If an agency's services are not provided in agency offices the person who provides itinerant services must also offer voter registration services. If the consumer declines to register to vote the agency must obtain the individual's signature on a declination form and keep that form on file for 22 months.

Some agencies, but by no means all, that are covered under this law include: Vocational Rehabilitation; Special Education; Commissions for the Deaf and the Blind; Paratransit Providers; Independent Living Centers; disability specific service providers such as ARCs, MS Society, Epilepsy Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Associations, etc. Most disability agencies are in violation of the NVRA. A 2000 National Organization on Disability/Harris poll reports that only 44% of people with disabilities have been asked by a service provider to register to vote.

In order to make sure that people with disabilities have a voice in government, they must prove that they have voting power.  It is thus incumbent on all American's with disabilities to ensure that their local public and private agencies are obeying the law and offering registration to their consumers.  The following helpful advice can be provided to aid any organization in their effort to come into compliance.

How Disability Agencies Can Comply with the NVRA

  1. Appoint one permanent staff person to oversee and coordinate voter registration activities. This person should design the best method for routinely offering voter registration in the intake process, at the reception desk, or during orientation at your agency. This person should ensure that the agency has a regular supply of state mail-in voter registration forms, which can be obtained from the local elections office. Also, this person should register staff to vote.
  2. Design a plan to afford all your clients the opportunity to register to vote.
  3. Agency intake forms and procedures should be amended to include the question, "IF YOU ARE NOT REGISTERED TO VOTE WHERE YOU NOW LIVE, WOULD YOU LIKE TO REGISTER TO VOTE HERE TODAY?"
  4. Clients should always be offered help in completing the voter registration form. Check to be sure the application is properly filled out, and that your agency offers to mail it to the elections office. Obtain answers to commonly asked questions such as, "How will I know if I'm registered?" "Where do I vote?" "How do I get an absentee ballot?" "Do I need an I.D. card to vote?" "Can I register to vote at age 17 if I will be 18 on Election Day?" "If I register now, am I permanently registered?" "Do I have to choose a political party when I register?" "If I vote in a party's primary election, do I have to vote for that party in the general election?"
  5. Record the names and phone numbers of people who register to vote at your agency. This step is for get-out-the-vote efforts. You can also keep track of how many people register to document your success to your staff, board, funders, local coalitions, national affiliates, or the press.
ALL VOTER REGISTRATION SERVICES MUST BE NON-PARTISAN

"Non-partisan" means that the activity or program shall not be influenced by, affiliated with, or supportive of the interests or policies of any political party or candidate. Support for candidates of two parties in an election ("bipartisanship") is not a non-partisan activity. You need to put up a sign that reads:

"Our voter registration services are available without regard for the voter's political preference. Information and other assistance regarding registering or voting, including transportation and other services offered, shall not be withheld or refused on the basis of support for or opposition to a particular candidate or particular political party."

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. Can my organization work in a coalition with other groups that conduct voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote programs?
A. Yes, as long as the effort is non-partisan. Participating organizations and individuals cannot make any statements in support of or in opposition to any particular candidate or party, or conduct any other activity designed to reflect a preference or recommendation for any political party or candidate.

Q. Can vehicles owned by non-profit organizations be used to transport voters to the polls? Can drivers employed by the organization
transport voters to the polls?
A. Yes to both questions. You can even affix nonpartisan messages to vehicles encouraging voters to go to the polls. However, make certain that the vehicles and the drivers do not display any partisan literature, buttons, posters, flyers, bumper stickers or other political propaganda.

Q. Can a staff person registering voters in a 501(c)3 agency wear a
button or put a bumper sticker on his/her car that has the name of a favored
candidate?
A. No, not while registering the voters. This caution does not apply to referenda; you may urge citizens to "support or stop Proposition X."

Q. Can my agency place posters in conspicuous places?
A. Yes, as long as they do not refer to political parties or candidates.