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Groups Work To Close Gap In Voter Turnout Between Texans With Disabilities And Those Without

June Conway helps Eric Hood register
Qiling Wang for KUT
June Conway helps Eric Hood register to vote in 2016.

Advocates say they're hoping to register more Texans with disabilities ahead of the constitutional amendment election in November and the presidential primaries next year.

Across the country, voter turnout among people with disabilities is lower than those without disabilities.

During an event in Austin on Tuesday, activists began training to become deputy voter registrars who will reach out to the disability community, specifically.

There are an estimated 2 million registered voters with disabilities in Texas. Disability rights groups have been working to increase that bloc of voters for about three years.

Part of that work involves recruiting people to register voters, said Jeff Miller, a policy specialist with Disability Rights Texas. He said it’s important for those folks to have a lot of information about what they should do when helping people with disabilities.

“Texas has some rather strict laws around registration,” he said. “It’s really important that people that are helping other people register to vote understand what those laws are and what the rules are around when you take a card from someone or when you can help them mail the card or whatever.”

Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, said volunteers need to be prepared to make sure voters have all the information they need in order to vote.

“We need to be equipped to provide information about voter ID, early voting, available assistance at polling places and voting by mail opportunities,” he said.

Miller said a recent study from Rutgers University found the percentage of people with disabilities who voted in 2018 was much higher than in the previous midterm election in 2014 –including in Texas.

In 2014, the voter turnout among folks with disabilities was 34.2%, according to the study. The turnout for voters without disabilities in Texas, comparatively, was 38.4% that year.

Bob Kafka, an organizer for ADAPT Texas
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Bob Kafka, an organizer for ADAPT Texas, said he wants to make sure people with disabilities show up for all elections.

In 2018, though, the disability rights community nearly closed that gap. Folks with disabilities had a 48.2% turnout, while people without disabilities had a 48.4% turnout, according to the study.

Miller said groups need to continue organizing to make sure that gap in turnout is fully closed. 

“We are more cognizant, I think, about the fact that it is really important to continue,” he said, “not just to do a one-shot thing in July.”

Bob Kafka, a disability activist and organizer for ADAPT Texas, said he wants to make sure voters with disabilities aren’t just voting in major elections like presidential elections and midterms.

“We need to start showing the disability vote for city council, school board and every other,” he said.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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