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By Thomas Goldsmith

As many as three million more ballots nationwide could be cast in every election if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as the general population.

That’s the word from Disability Rights North Carolina, which this week launched a drive to help people with disabilities overcome the problems they sometimes encounter in North Carolina’s polling places. These can include obstacles for people whose physical mobility and/or visual abilities are limited.

Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Leaders of the nonprofit group say a new website, www.accessthevotenc.org, should simplify matters.

The website guides potential voters through issues such as eligibility, registering, and voting in person, from home, or from a residential facility, Matthew Herr, policy analyst for Disability Rights, said in a news release.

Mark Ezzell, a Raleigh lawyer who uses a wheelchair, said in an interview that he worked on a similar effort, Accessvote, in 2000, along with the American Association for People with Disabilities.

“I do think progress has been made, I’m not sure that there’s been enough,” said Ezell who is also a member of the Wake County Board of Elections. “I think it’s always going to be helpful to have that stuff codified in one spot.”

The website will make for easier for people with disabilities to report problems they encounter in a polling place, including physical barriers or any effort to restrict their right to vote because of incorrect perceptions about their intellectual abilities.

www.accessthevotenc.org has all the information you need to exercise your right to vote.

Ezzell noted that the overturning of the voter ID law in North Carolina removed one barrier, because many people with disabilities don’t have and can’t easily obtain the types of identification the statute specified.

[If the voter ID bill had stood, lawmakers had approved a bill allowing people with developmental disabilities to get a free ID card if they presented a letter from a medical provider affirming their disability.]

As another part of the effort to encourage voting, a campaign called “I Have a Disability, and I Vote!” will run through the end of October. Disability Rights is asking people with disabilities to send in their pictures, names and a sentence or two about why voting is important to them.

Disability Rights NC will publish the entries on its Facebook page until election day. Submissions should be sent to voting@disabilityrightsnc.org or posted on Facebook or Twitter using #accessthevotenc.

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If your voting rights have been violated you can call:

•Your county board of elections.
•The State Board of Elections at 919-733-7173.
•Election Protection at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) .
•Disability Rights NC at 877-235-4210 (888-268-5535 TTY).

Source: Accessthevotenc.org

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Thomas Goldsmith

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...