‘We depend on each other’: A community driven to vote (video)

People with disabilities have faced access challenges at the polls, and some now see those rising. Their pushback: helping each other to be counted.

For many voters, the act of casting a ballot has become easier. There are mail-in options, drop boxes, early-voting periods. States have maintained that moves to prevent cheating have not limited access. 

People with disabilities have gained too, but they still face hurdles. Many lack access to vehicles or public transportation, making it nearly impossible to vote in person. Suzanne Thornton hopes to change that.

“I kept seeing free rides ... to the polls,” says Thornton, a veteran with limited mobility who lives in Decatur, Georgia. “And I’d call them and say, ‘Do you have an accessible van?’ And they’re like, ‘No.’ So if you were in a wheelchair, you couldn’t get a ride.”

Thornton, who goes by “Zan” and uses gender neutral pronouns, organized free wheelchair-accessible rides to the polls for more than 150 people during the 2020-2021 U.S. Senate special election in Georgia. They are continuing this work for the 2022 midterms.

In general elections, there’s been a persistent gap between the turnout rates of voters with and without disabilities. If this gap were closed, there would be an estimated 1.75 million more votes. For Thornton and other people with disabilities, ensuring that everyone who wants to vote has access sometimes means finding creative solutions together.

“If you had to count on my energy, I don’t think we can get to 200, not even to 100,” Thornton says about getting people to the polls. “It’s just working through community. And that’s what the disability community is, working together.”

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