Guest Blogger: Cassy Pangaribuan Beaver,
Program Support Assistant
UCP of Southwest Florida in Naples
As Sunrise is gearing up for our participation of National Voter Registration Day on September 27, 2016, we are working to make sure that our staff and the self-advocates we serve are not left out on election day, November 8th, 2016. On September 27, 2016, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” for National Voter Registration Day. This single day of coordinated ?eld, technology and media efforts will create pervasive awareness of voter registration opportunities for people of all abilities.
People with developmental disabilities are frequently denied the right to vote. The 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution prohibit the government from denying the right to vote to any U.S. citizen on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” or sex. Other than those prohibitions, however, the Constitution gives States the power to set qualifications for voting, as long as these qualifications are “not discriminatory”, and do not violate the Constitution or any restrictions that Congress imposes in federal voting laws. (Constitution, Art. I, s.4) The Federal Voting Rights Act specifically gives states permission to enact laws to deny the right to vote to people for two reasons: “by reason of criminal conviction or mental incapacity.” [42 U.S.C. § 1973gg-6(a)(3)(B)]
Provisions in state constitutions that deny the right to vote to people with developmental disabilities take many different forms, reflecting the fact that they were typically added to state constitutions in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, around the same time that people with disabilities were being isolated in large institutions and subject to eugenic practices and policies. The general rationale for enshrining these restrictions into state Constitutions was that people who needed state assistance (whether because of poverty or disability) were isolated from the rest of society; losing the right to vote was one of the freedoms they gave up in exchange for the support the state gave them. The rationales given for this restriction include protecting the validity of the voting process by distinguishing voters who intend to express some preference and affect the election results from those who do not understand the nature of voting, and the preventing voter fraud, by ensuring that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not manipulated into voting for other people’s preferences.
We believe that realizing human rights is the essential first step to building just societies. When people are empowered to pursue their own destinies and have a voice in shaping solutions to problems they experience, they are better equipped to overcome poverty, live with dignity and transform the lives of others. Voting Rights are an essential part of social justice. As such, Sunrise supports and promotes education about voting rights for those we serve as well as our own staff.
Recently, UCP of Southwest Florida hosted a mock candidate’s forum; where individuals learned about the campaigning and election process. As part of the training exercise, self-advocates in the Naples area have been campaigning at the Adult Day Training Center for the past few weeks to be elected ‘President or Vice President’ of the Naples Center. There were posters made and speeches given. On July 15th, with the help of the Collier County Board of Elections, everyone had a chance to vote!
A tremendous thanks to Heather Wysocki, Voter Education Coordinator, Office of the Honorable Jennifer J. Edwards, Supervisor of Elections who created ballots for our Naples “special election.” as well as for bringing voting equipment for training day. Every one had fun!!
In the end, the election tallies wound up with a tie in each office. Since we had no way of having a run off election, we decided each office would be shared….so we have 2 Co-Presidents & 2 Co-Vice Presidents!!! Congrats to the winners, but Sunrise is so proud of each of them for the courage to stand before everyone and give their speeches! You were all awesome!!!!