#AdvocacyMatters: On Barriers and Ballots

July 23, 2021 / #AdvocacyMatters

During a whirlwind of a year, 2020’s primary and general elections presented an abundance of opportunities and challenges for the disability-rights community. People with disabilities utilized various to independently cast their votes long before last year. However, the pandemic raised the stakes—and the risks—even higher for Ohioans with disabilities. Looking back through our 2020 Annual Report, we highlight how DRO staff truly rose to the occasion, expanding our voter outreach, rights-based education, and systemic advocacy.

At the start of March 2020 when “Coronavirus” was a new and strange word appearing on our TVs and workplaces, preparation for the March 17th primary election was in full swing. When COVID-19 cases and concerns began rising, we did too. Our attorneys and advocates filed a friend-of-the-court brief, advocating that keeping Election Day as scheduled without further accommodations could be a death sentence for Ohioans with disabilities, requiring individuals choose between their constitutional rights and their lives. In an unprecedented, late-night decision on March 16th, Ohio’s Department of Health closed the polls. The very next morning, DRO held our scheduled Voter Hotline from 6:30 am – 7:30 pm, ensuring that any individual with questions or concerns could speak to an attorney or advocate.

In the months leading up to the general election, we got to work. We empowered people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote—whether by mail, early in person, or in person on Election Day. DRO staff held virtual trainings with transition-aged youth in residential treatment facilities and adults in state hospitals, providing concrete tips on registering and planning out their vote. For voters across the state, we developed a comprehensive guide to Plan Your Vote, complete with pages upon pages of plain language resources. All the while, we partnered with ally organizations and coalitions to expand education and access to assistive technology, including Ohio’s new remote ballot marking tool.

By the time October rolled around, DRO staff had trained thousands of individuals, advocated to state leadership, and partnered with statewide coalitions to ensure every voter with a disability could safely cast their ballot. Finally, November’s Election Day arrived. Our team staffed our Voter Hotline while the polls were open on the 3rd, assisting voters with curbside voting, safety precautions, assistive technology, unexpected hospitalizations, ballot access in nursing facilities, and much more. Overall, equitable voting efforts were a massive success. Non-traditional access to voting afforded increased access for all Ohio voters—but especially Ohioans with disabilities—to cast their vote independently and safely.

2020’s elections were not without barriers, and we will continue building on the lessons these pandemic-fraught elections taught us. As we look towards this year’s special election and beyond, DRO will work alongside people with disabilities, partner organizations, and the state to envision an equitable, accessible voting process for all. Just like your vote, your #AdvocacyMatters.

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