Commentary

Saunders: Advocates for disabled fear effects of voting law changes

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJuly 24, 2013 

OK, riddle me this: If democracy is such a great game, why are some politicians trying to limit who can play?

One would think that self-professed liberty-lovin’ patriots would try to make it possible for everyone to participate in political elections, but the myriad hurdles being placed in front of prospective North Carolina voters by the GOP-led legislature convey a different reality.

Can anyone seriously dispute that most aspects of the Voter ID Law are designed to limit, not increase, the number of North Carolinians who cast ballots? Disproportionately affected will be poor people, young people, anyone who might be predisposed to vote Democratic.

The latest target is people with disabilities. Yep, lawmakers are picking on the disabled now.

Like Florida in 2012

Naw, they don’t come right out and say that – behind suppressed laughter, legislators claim they’re trying to restore integrity in the election process, tee hee. But the end result is that, if these bills become law, more barriers to voting will be erected and more people may be inclined to just say, “Ah, to heck with it.” You now, the way 200,000 would-be voters did in Florida last year when they got tired of waiting for hours in deliberately elongated lines and said – you guessed it – ah, to heck with it.

Of the changes that could limit who can vote or assist disabled people in voting, David Laxton, spokesman for the Autism Society of North Carolina, said, “We feel there is not a threat of voter fraud from the disabled community, and there was no need for them to be included in this law. It is an unnecessary change that will actually impede people’s ability to vote.”

Laxton fears, he said, “intimidation and the singling out” of some disabled people. Some people “might not be able to express themselves” if anyone – perhaps a partisan poll watcher – challenges their competency to vote. “An individual with autism, which is a communications disorder, may not be able to explain effectively that they do have the right to vote. That’s just not right.”

No, but it is a part of Section 34, a late addition to the effort that addresses who is entitled to assistance in a voting booth.

Jennifer Mahan, director of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Autism Society, said the last-minute nature of the bill’s introduction made it difficult to organize opposition to it. “We knew something was coming, but I had not seen Section 34. I heard about it that morning, but didn’t get a chance to read it until mid-morning.”

‘Very, very passionate’

Laxton said some of the people with disabilities “are very, very passionate about their politics” and are no more in need of having their competency questioned than anyone else.

Preach, brother.

I’ve talked to parents who beamed when telling of the pride their autistic children felt upon casting their first vote, and I received the following letter, written by Asheville parents to their representative, Nathan Ramsey.

Mr. Ramsey,

I am writing out of grave concern of one provision of this bill that would eliminate voting rights for those with guardianship. Our son, who is 24 years old, has high functioning autism and has voted in every election since he was of age. While he has challenges in some areas of his life, he has done extremely well, living in his own apt, holding down a part time job (for which he pays taxes), and goes to school. He is and always has been very aware politically and is extremely proud that as American he has the right to vote – and he does.

“As our representative (We live in North Asheville), we urge you to not support this disgusting and backward provision. It is clearly a violation of human rights and might even be a violation of the American with Disabilities Act. Please do not support this provision. It would clearly (be) taxation without representation, a practice our country’s founder rebelled against to form this great country.

Regards,

Joe and Kathy Trimbach

Are people with disabilities more likely to be liberal voters? I asked Laxton.

“That’s a common perception, that if you’re a minority or someone within a disability community, that you’re going to vote Democratic.” he said. “Not only do we have a spectrum of functioning abilities among the people here, but we have a spectrum of political views, as well. Anecdotally, within our own organization, I know people whose politics run from very, very conservative to very, very liberal.”

In the stoner movie “Easy Rider,” a song is played called “Don’t Bogart That Joint, My Friend.” It is the stoner anthem for people who love sharing an occasional spliff.

People who love America need a new anthem, too. Let’s call it “Don’t Bogart That Vote, My Friend.” Maestro, hit it:

Don’t bogart that vote, my friend.

Pass it over to me.

Don’t bogart that vote, my friend.

Who’re you to judge my competency?

Now, stick that in your pipe, legislators, and smoke it.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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