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Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities Can and Should Vote!
Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA

Voting is one of the most important responsibilities we have as citizens of the United States. It is one way of collectively voicing our opinion about how we want our country to be run. The decisions our elected officials make impact every aspect of our lives. Adults living with intellectual disabilities (ID) should be encouraged to participate in the voting process because they feel the impact of these decisions too.
 
According to William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, people with intellectual and physical disabilities can vote in all elections. The only exception is if the person with ID has a guardianship decree that specifically states that they cannot vote.
 
Not every adult with ID is interested in voting, but if they are interested in voting they can and should vote.
 
One perception that prevents adults with ID from participating in the voting process is the belief that they do not understand the voting process and may be unable to make complex decisions about questions on the ballot. This perception significantly underestimates this population’s ability to grasp the issues that impact them most. For example, they certainly know that budget cuts to the services they rely on will negatively impact their lives.
 
Many adults with ID are able make informed choices and need support to ensure that they can appropriately take part in the voting process. People who support adults with ID can help them register to vote, explain what to expect when they are voting, and make sure they know where they can vote in their community. They can also accompany them to the polling place.
 
If it is the person’s first time voting, going over the voting process well in advance of voting day is very important because there is a lot to know. For example, he or she should know:

  • His address so he can check in easily.

  • How to find a poll worker if she needs to ask for help.

  • That he can bring a support person along to the polling place to help if he needs extra help.

  • That all polling places should be accessible, and at least one voting booth should be accessible.

  • That every voter is guaranteed five minutes in a booth if others are waiting, and ten minutes if no one is waiting. (It is a good idea to go to the polling place when it is less busy.)

  • That she can bring her lists of rights or any other election materials – including a sample ballot – into the voting booth with her.

  • That everyone is guaranteed two replacement ballots if they make mistakes and need to start over.

 
A complete list of the rights of voters in Massachusetts can be found at: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elerights/rightsidx.htm. Another important resource that provides helpful information about the voting process for individuals with disabilities can be found at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleaccessible/accessibleidx.htm.
 
It is vitally important that those of us who care for and about individuals with ID teach them that they have the right to vote and that their vote matters. If you know someone who could benefit from the information in this column, please pass it along!
 
 
Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Clinical Director for the Western Massachusetts division of the May Center for Adult Services. She can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300 (ext. 262) or at mwalsh@mayinstitute.org
 
May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral health services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and behavioral health needs. The May Center for Adult Services in West Springfield provides day and residential services to adults with developmental disabilities living in western Massachusetts. For more information, call 800-778-7601.