Get out and VOTE as if your life depends on it…

because thousands of lives already have been lost obtaining your right to vote!


By Sarah K. Lanzo

Despite my passion in these articles, I'm really pretty mellow about how others live their lives. I believe that, as long as they don’t infringe on others, hurt or violate the property, health or safety of people, nor discriminate based on prejudice, what they do is probably…OK!. Another of my Core Values: that we, as Americans, have the privilege and the right to vote for those we wish to lead us as citizens of a Town, City, County, State, and Country!

You may not know that ensuring this right to cast a simple ballot has taken the Nation on a long and tortuous path to get where we are today – but we could go further!  In some states, we are distressed that people who are deemed "mentally incompetent" are still not allowed to vote. Disability Advocacy Specialist for Voting Rights Michelle Bishop of the National Disability Rights Network said, "We are the last demographic within the U.S. where you can take away our right to vote because of our identity."


The fact is, the original 1789 U.S. Constitution gave THE STATES the power to set the requirements for voters, and most settled on white male Protestants who owned property and/or paid taxes (about 6 percent of the population). Over the centuries, as community groups and local politicians fought to include those they liked -- or exclude those whom they didn't -- dozens of laws and a few Constitutional Amendments were necessary to empower all those who can vote today. Such as: those of all races, including Native Americans, and freed slaves; naturalized citizens; non-property owners; those of various religions; women; those who cannot pay Poll Taxes, or other taxes; those who are 18 years or older; plus U.S. military or others serving overseas. Extending this right to some groups is still being contested in various states: those who have been convicted of a felony; homeless individuals; and some people with disabilities for whom conservators (guardians) have been appointed by the Courts. Advocates are still fighting to eliminate these exceptions.


All in all, a decent, but not a terrific, legacy for "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave".


Well, the good news for my fellow citizens is that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA, or "Motor-Voter Act") and the Help America Vote Act of 2001 (HAVA) have resulted in a more accessible voting experience for people with a variety of functional limitations, enabling them to be able to cast their wishes -- at their District's polling place -- both independently and privately! Did you know that each polling place should have: designated reserved parking spaces for permit-holders; accessible paths of travel to the front door including curb cuts and wheelchair ramps, and to the polls; signage in halls and elevators with Braille markings; and other accommodations? Every voting station in New York State is supposed to offer an accessible ballot marking device -- that can be used by anyone -- and makes private voting possible by individuals who: cannot see … are unable to walk … cannot use their hands or arms … would need a little help finding the box on the ballot by their choice to fill it in (once they instruct it, the device does it for them!) … cannot read … or just really likes to use modern technology!


Unless you've missed the news for the last 20 months, you know Congress, and those they confirm, are poised to continue making great changes in the way our country treats many different people. At the risk of acknowledging what a million political ads have been saying – the Mid-term General Elections arrive on November 6th! On whichever side of the political divide you may sit, you NEED to get out and vote, as these elections will have consequences for at least the next two years! 


You say that you don't know enough about those running in November to decide for whom to vote? Well, Independent Living of Niagara County invites you, “FREE OF CHARGE”, to come to our Meet the Candidates Day on Thursday October 25th from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., at 746 Portage Road, Niagara Falls. You can express your positions, (particularly on issues that affect you), and pose your questions. Contact us for details!


Democracy in action: you gotta love it!


Sarah K. Lanzo is the Director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. Family of Agencies. They empower individuals with any disabilities to gain the information and resources needed to improve their quality of life and participate in society on an equal basis. For more information about ILNC's services and programs please contact: (716) 284-4131, ext. 200.