When the Senate confirmed last week that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson would become the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, many journalists rightly attributed the moment to the 2021 Georgia Sens election. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who gave Democrats control of the chamber.
As Republicans attacked voting rights in state legislatures, people with disabilities predicted the new laws would hurt them too.
Many have noted that black, Asian and Latino organizers first helped turn Georgia blue for Joe Biden and then for Osoff and Warnock. Efforts by disabled people’s organizations and groups such as the Georgia Disability Vote Partnership have helped mobilize people with disabilities to vote, but their work is less well known. These disability rights activists were either directly involved in Senate races or worked with organizations that maximized the participation of people with disabilities.
Much of the criticism of the voter suppression bills that Republicans have passed have, understandably, focused on how these laws will harm people of color. But as Republicans attacked voting rights in state legislatures, many people with disabilities predicted the new laws would hurt them too. Unfortunately, they were right. People with disabilities have seen their ability to vote significantly reduced.
During the Texas primary election last month, Stateline reported, many voters with disabilities contacted Disability Rights Texas because they had not received their mail-in ballots in time for the election or they had had their ballots rejected due to a new signature and personal information. identification requirements.
The law requires people who help a voter to vote must complete new paperwork that discloses their relationship to the voter and specifically prohibits people who accept compensation from providing assistance, raising concerns for people with disabilities who need help caregiver to perform daily tasks. According to the Associated Press, the typical rejection rate for mail-in ballots is around 2%, but in last month’s Texas election, that rejection rate skyrocketed to around 13%.
It is a cruel irony that Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who signed legislation restricting the empowerment of people with disabilities, is himself a disabled person. In fact, Abbott has spent his career weaponizing his disability against other disabled people. A new profile published this week in Texas Monthly references a claim Abbott made in his 2016 memoir “Broken But Unbowed” about his time working as an attorney defending the Houston bus company against personal injury lawsuits. . He used the fact that he uses a wheelchair to argue against someone who used a cane and said they couldn’t work. Later, as a Texas Supreme Court justice, Abbott helped gut the medical malpractice law.
It’s a far cry from the era of Houston Republicans like George HW Bush signing the Americans With Disabilities Act. Abbott, who received a nice settlement after a tree fell on him while he was running, was able to live a good and fulfilling life, as all people with disabilities should. But he has spent much of his career trying to make life unnecessarily miserable for other people with disabilities.
But the rights of people with disabilities aren’t just being violated in Texas. When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis isn’t bullying LGBTQ+ people in schools or doing his best to impersonate Donald Trump by fighting with Disney, he’s passing a law that criminalizes anyone who delivers or even “physically possesses” more than two votes by mail. ballots, excluding immediate family members, “including supervised voting in assisted living facilities and nursing homes”.
In DeSantis Florida, wearing a mask and helping someone vote is communism.
This massively and disproportionately affects people with disabilities who often have to stay home either because they are in assisted living facilities or because of a chronic illness. As DeSantis is proud to thumb his nose at public health recommendations, many people with disabilities may not be able to go outside to risk contracting Covid-19, making ballot collection all the more necessary. . But in DeSantis Florida, wearing a mask and helping someone vote is communism.
A federal judge recently blocked the law, but Florida is certain to appeal the decision. Moreover, if it were to reach the Supreme Court, the decision to block the law would risk being flawed if not completely overturned. Despite Chief Justice John Roberts’ public twists on the integrity of the court, he was only too willing to remove voting rights. The only reason Democrats tried to pass the franchise — only to be derailed by Republicans and fellow Democrats Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – is that the Roberts court effectively overruled the law in 2013, with Shelby County v. Holder.
It is, of course, no coincidence that laws disenfranchising people with disabilities come after the 2020 presidential election had a historic display of the power of voters with disabilities. Almost every major Democratic presidential candidate has released disability policy proposals (though Joe Biden waited until after the primary to release his, and his response to the pandemic has left many people with disabilities concerned). Donald Trump, of course, didn’t, which isn’t at all surprising considering he was perhaps the most capable president of my life.
Similarly, while the pandemic has created significant barriers that should not be diminished, states making absentee ballots more accessible have lowered the barrier to voting for many, and turnout for people with disabilities has increased. by 6 percentage points, to 62%. These are historic numbers that show that people with disabilities are a viable constituency with legitimate needs. But rather than conservatives finding new ways to accommodate them as Bob Dole, the first President Bush and other Republicans of old did, they chose to disenfranchise them. In turn, they have proven to be a greater impediment to voting than any staircase or non-accessible polling place could ever be.