The right to vote is one of the most important fundamentals of a democratic society, no matter what your political affiliation may be voting allows us to cast our voice. I Recently, I attempted to vote in the New York state Democratic primary only to find frustration. This primary has gathered a fair bit of infamy especially in the New York City area. To avoid any potential criticism, it is important to point out that a portion of the responsibility for my own negative experience rests on my own shoulders but is disheartening nonetheless. While voting inaccessibility is still a major concern, I do not necessarily feel discriminated against in this situation.
For the past few months, the election buzz has been at a deafening roar as America weighs the options of presidential hopefuls. This unprecedented level of interest, fed by social media, has motivated me to take a more critical look at the electoral process and the U.S. government in general. A major focus of mine has been the disability perspective in particular; a candidate’s stances on policy and current issues has the potential to affect millions of disabled people, myself included. Thanks to efforts such as #CripTheVote, the brainchild of activists Alice Wong, Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan, I have been able to to follow and join the conversation surrounding disabled politics. Leading up to New York’s primary, I spent a great deal of time researching and discussing "my party’s” specific candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
As April 19th approached, I surprisingly found myself still a bit conflicted yet well versed on both candidates. I eventually made the tentative personal decision to support Senator Sanders with my vote, fully cognizant of the pros and cons. I felt excited to once again take part in the democratic process and for the first time vote in a primary. When Tuesday arrived, my mom took time out of her busy schedule to drive me to my former elementary school, our polling place for the past several years. I knew this location was accessible do to the amount of time my parents and others spent fighting for additional curb cuts, accessible emergency exits and an automatic door button, when I was a student there.
We got there around 4:30 in the afternoon to find very few people in line and the election workers to be very friendly. Unfortunately, I soon realized that my name was not in book and that my voting location had been redistricted without my apparent knowledge. Later I came to understand that I was not the only one in my area who had experienced this problem. I was a little disappointed but my resolve was not shaken, being adaptable is a must-have skill when you are disabled after all. Unable to get through on the local board of elections phone number that the voting workers provided, we decided to back in our van and head to the other polling location near my house, a detour I would not have be able to make using public transportation.
After a short drive, we reached the correct polling station which for no discernible reason featured an accessibility logo on it’s ‘vote here’ sign. We were able to find a parking spot right next to the non-automatic doors of the church where the polling was being held. With voting attempt number two, the workers were again helpful and pleasant albeit a tad overenthusiastic about my presence. As I went to vote however, it turned out that I was apparently not registered with a party and thus unable to vote in NY’s closed primary. The election worker representing the Democratic party was nice enough to check my registration status on her laptop and give me a (rarely counted) provisional affidavit ballot.
I was naturally a bit embarrassed and upset with the situation, after spending so much time and effort I was not able to share my electoral voice. Also, my voting experience was poor largely do to my own assumptions that I was properly registered and such. Overall, the lesson to take away from all this is, to quote Scar from the Lion King: “Be prepared!” I urge all voters, especially those of us with disabilities, to check and double-check your party status, polling location and the times of when you can vote. There are plenty of obstacles and fool play that can impede voting, this is as clear as ever, but each of us should do our part to take contribute to this grand experiment known as democracy.