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We Should Not Have to Risk Our Lives to Vote

Two buttons that say vote are on top of an American flag.

While every election is important, the outcome of the November Presidential election promises to be a turning point for America. As a disabled individual, the next four years can drastically alter my participation in society. From Medicare to COVID-19 policies, any funding cuts for the disabled community can be life-threatening. The success of every disabled person depends on voters turning out to #CriptheVote and control our future. However, COVID-19 is significantly decreasing the opportunities for disabled individuals to vote safely and independently.

Voting in person poses a health risk for those with compromised immune systems. The simple solution is that disabled voters turn to absentee ballots or curbside voting. While I am extremely privileged to have this option, my family friend who is blind faces numerous obstacles. In June, she voted absentee successfully, but only because of her own ingenuity. My friend voted by using a magnifying glass with a paper ballot. This painstaking and belittling experience could have been easily avoided, but Iowa failed her.

For the 54,000 visually impaired Iowans, voting from home is completely inaccessible. Iowa offers large print voter registration forms, but that is the end of their accommodations. Visually impaired voters or those with fine motor issues rely on accessible voting machines at polling places to cast their ballot. However, multiple individuals touching this equipment while being exposed to several people at polling locations is extremely dangerous. Asking disabled voters to risk their lives when they could easily vote from home with accessible absentee ballots is ridiculous, ignorant, and inexcusable.

Accessible absentee ballots are blank ballots that can be sent electronically, read by a screen reader, and then filled out with marking tools on a computer. Once completed, these ballots can be printed and mailed like any other absentee ballot. These ballots can be sent through established systems, such as Democracy Live and Five Cedars, or a state’s online portal. This accessible technology guarantees that disabled individuals can vote privately and independently, as is required by the Help America Vote Act.

Some concerns within the technology community are that sending ballots through an online portal can be easily hacked. However, they completely ignore the fact that every state provides electronic ballots for military and overseas voters. Many states merely attach a ballot to an email for these voters, which is much more dangerous than systems being provided for the disabled community. For example, Democracy Live uses an AWS system which has a FedRamp certification. Systems with this certification are approved for use by federal security and intelligence agencies.

As Iowa already provides electronic ballots, they have the technology readily available to apply to the disabled community. COVID-19 has already forced abled-bodied individuals to move to telehealth, remote work, and online education, which were all previously denied for the disabled community. The disabled community deserves to receive the accommodations they need, when they need them. Not only after a global pandemic reveals that online alternatives are credible and successful. Accessible absentee ballots are the next step to ensuring the disabled community has equal access to the vote in November. As the largest minority group in America, the disabled community has the potential to overwhelm this election with our political ideas about our own bodies and lives. I vote because of my disability, but Iowa prohibits absentee voters because of their disabilities. Iowa must implement accessible absentee ballots to ensure all of my community can contribute their voices to our future.

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