S6 E01: Vote to Save Democracy
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For all inquiries related to Pod For The Cause, please contact Evan Hartung ([email protected]).
Welcome to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership
Conference Education Fund, where we take on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day. I’m your host, Kanya Bennett,
coming to you from Washington, D.C. And to start off this and every show, let me shout out the pod squad who will be sharing their
time and talent and take on the challenges and opportunities before us as we work to save our democracy. We have some great
folks on Pod for the Cause today. Let me welcome Cece Huddleston, who has a voting rights field coordinator for the Prepared to
vote and voting rights defender projects at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund through LDF prepared to vote and voting rights defender
projects, Cece is equipping voters with the information necessary to protect voting rights and support black political participation.
Cece is also an alumna of the Leadership Conference and the Pod for the Cause. So very happy to have you here today, Cece. How
are you doing?
I am doing fantastic. I’m so happy to be with you all today.
Wonderful, wonderful. Maria, let me turn to you and properly introduce you. Maria Towne is the president and CEO of the American
Association of People with Disabilities. In this role, Maria works to increase the political and economic power of people with
disabilities. Maria has also served in local and federal governments to advocate for the rights and needs of people with disabilities.
Thank you so much for joining us today. Maria, how are you doing?
I’m good. Very, very happy to be here and have this conversation with you all.
So before we get into today’s conversation on civic engagement with these two great guests, Cece and Maria, I want to provide some
context. At the leadership conference, we describe voting as the language of American democracy. At the core of what it means to
be American is the ability to participate in civic life. When we vote, we make decisions that impact our lives, our families and our
communities. People of color, women, people with disabilities, people who are low income and Native Americans had to fight to
ensure access to the ballot box for more than a century. And today that fight continues. And let’s be clear, what we are talking about
is state sanctioned, government sanctioned efforts that make it harder for people to vote. We’re not just talking about individual
actors here. We are talking about Supreme Court decisions that have stripped away core protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
that ensured voters of color had the safeguards necessary to participate fully in our country’s political process. Despite the pandemic
and deliberate barriers to the ballot, however, in 2020, we saw the highest voter turnout in recent history, with nearly 160 million
people casting their vote. College students turned up in record numbers, with 66% of students who are registered casting ballots in
the 2020 election. This is 14% higher than the turnout in 2016. We saw that same trend in the last midterm election cycle when
college students turned out in a number double from 19% to 40% from what it was in 2014 to 2018.
People with disabilities also turned out in strikingly high numbers. That turnout increased 17.7 million in 2020, which was up from 16
million in 2016. Expanded access to voting options, such as mail in ballots helped this high turnout. But some state lawmakers saw
our enthusiasm, saw our turnout, and are now trying to make it even harder for us to vote. Since 2020, 30 states have enacted anti
voter bills that target Black, Brown and Native voters, voters with disabilities and others across the country. We have seen the
introduction of over 400 restrictive voter bills in state legislatures and more keep coming. But turnout hasn’t stopped, and since the
Dobbs decision, we have seen new female voters outnumber males by at least 10% in nine states as of mid-August. That turnout
sounds a little like my approach to life. If someone tells me I can’t do something, no again, something that I’m lawfully allowed to do,
then I am going to do it. And so I’m curious. Cece And I’m curious, Maria, how are young people voting these days? How do they view
it? Are they taking the same approach? Is that their philosophy? Cece Let me start with you.
I think there’s a double sided answer to that. I think young folks are feeling challenged. It’s like, you tell me I can’t do something. And
especially the way that I think Gen Z and Millennials are set up is like, You can tell us you’re going to do something, then we’re going
to do it. So I think that challenge and saying that these are the restrictions and these are the things we’re going to do to take your vote
away allows us to come back in larger numbers. But I think on the other side of that is that if you want these larger numbers to come
out, you’re going to have to give us something to vote for. So it’s like, okay, like we’re going to come back, we’re going to resist, but is
our resistance going to be met with the promises that you made us when you wanted our vote to come out? So I think that’s what
millennials and Gen Z and young voters are pretty much struggling with.
Thank you. Cece Maria, what’s your take?
I really agree with Cece’s last point. I think that young voters, the idea of voting will not save us is a pretty profound one for a lot of
young voters. Young voters especially engaged in a lot of efforts to turn out the vote in 2020. And from a I’ll use the disability
community as an example, the number of young people in nursing homes is rising. And one of the very exciting things about
candidate Joe Biden was that he promised significant transformative investments in home and community based services that would
keep people out of nursing homes, group homes and other congregate settings. Well, now that build back better, you know, did not
happen. And we saw the inflation reduction got completely stripped of all of the caregiving agenda looking into the midterms and
looking into the 2024 presidential election. I think that there are a lot of young people who are like, is this really the tool that I want to
use to build a just and equal society? At the same time, especially for young people, again, young, disabled people, young disabled
people of color whose competencies are doubted at every moment in their lives.
Voting is a way to have a voice and to have a say in their community and is a way for them to assert their personhood. And I think for
a lot of young people, that is especially important. One of the other things that I like to stress and that I think needs to happen more in
these conversations about democracy and civic engagement, is making sure that we’re looking at every race down the ballot and
ensuring that everyone, including young folks, know that in addition to voting, you can do things like showing up at your school board
meeting and with attacks on critical race theory and these bans on books making sure that young people are showing up to ensure
that books by Latinx authors, books about LGBTQIA people, books about black people and disabled people aren’t banned in their
schools as incredibly important. And so when we talk about democracy voting as one part of that, and I think a lot of young people
might be attracted to voting and more.
You both said in your opening comments things that really resonated with me. Maria, you just said that voting will not save us and
you said that voters are looking for voting plus more. Right. Obviously, Maria Cece, you two are tasked with charged with this
important responsibility of motivating constituencies to vote. Vote. That is your job. Talk to me about the work that you’re doing and
some of the challenges you face. If there is this sentiment that voting will not save us, how do you stay motivated? How do you
continue to do your jobs? Talk a little bit about that work.
So that’s actually a great point because a key part of our work and I completely agree with Maria, the voting alone will not save us
because there is a lot that has to go into motivating the people who are elected officials into enacting laws that were actually affect
and create positive change in your life. Our work centers on expanding access to the ballot, so voting alone at the way that things are
right now will not save us. Because in states where these like abortion bans and other things that were these laws are passing, most
black populations in these states don’t have access to the ballot like they’re going to be hit with voter purges or they’re going to be hit
with voter suffrage intimidations, or they’re going to be like completely voter intimidation. We’ve had polling locations with folks with
KKK and Confederate flags show up to these polling locations because they don’t want you to vote. And when these laws passed
and they say, oh, this is what the people voted for, this is not what the people voted for because you block their access to the ballot.
So that is why you need campaigns and you need movements to make sure that that even access to the ballot is there to begin with.
And also, you need these politicians who are going to be motivated to enact those laws to create access to the ballot.
Maria, how about you? How is your day today? Trying to keep folks motivated and appreciating why this right to vote is so critical and
why it must be honored?
It’s funny you mention that because part of my day today was spent preparing for National Disability Voting Rights Week, which is
September 12th to the 16th. For that week, every day we’re going to have one action that people can t ake to expand the registration
of disabled voters and build the power of the disability vote. And the action that we’re going to be focused on in the last day of that
week is holding elected officials accountable and keeping elected officials accountable. And I think this speaks to again, voting alone
won’t save us, because once you vote, we have to consistently remind those in power, whether they are elected or appointed
officials, that we are their constituents, that they are elected to serve our communities. And there are many barriers to that process as
well, things as basic as maintaining virtual meetings for town halls, because we are still in a pandemic that is disproportionately
impacting disabled people and communities of color. Things like having access, whether it’s close captioning or other forms of
language access to connect with your constituents. All of these pieces are so important. For that week, we have also developed an
Issues Guide to highlight just how your vote is directly connected to the things that you experience on a day to day basis. Whether
that’s like trash pickup, which is a very motivating issue for voters in local elections. Or sidewalk accessibility, or things like abortion
and reproductive health and reproductive justice.
I think that there are a lot of people, young and old, who feel like their vote doesn’t count. And I think one of the things that we have to
show people is that their vote does. I, you know, used to work in the city of Houston. And I have a friend, a phenomenal queer Latina
organizer, who lost her city council election by 12 votes. And I think about that. Yeah. And it’s, you know, and it’s not that the
candidate who won was like a bad candidate. She was also a great candidate. But how many elections can we all point to like that
that have these razor thin margins? These are often elections at the local level. And I think continuing to highlight those examples
can help motivate people. And I also like to remind folks just how hard we fought to have the right to vote and how hard we have to
continue to have the right to vote. Folks under guardianship, people who are incarcerated, who are often disabled, people will lose
their right to vote. So you think about Nichelle Nichols for all of the Star Trek fans out there, she was under a conservatorship. It is
likely that she had lost her right to vote. That happens to thousands and thousands of Americans and there’s not an attack by a
legislature that’s happening right now. That’s just the way that the process works. And we can’t let that stand.
That’s exactly right, Maria. So I want to go back to a comment you made Cece at the open. You said we need to vote for something.
We need something, an agenda. We need a plan that is consistent with what is going to turn us out to vote, given that’s what we are
experiencing in our day to day lives, our families, our communities. How will our needs be met when we go to the polls? And so I want
to ask both of you, given that you’re representing particular constituencies. Cece, You’re doing a lot of work with the black
community. Maria, obviously, the disability community, what is it that folks want to see on the ballot? What’s going to turn out folks?
What’s going to motivate them?
That is a great question, a key way that I think about this in terms of what is going to motivate them. That hasn’t done before. And I
think you have to recognize what communities were not reaching out to. So if we’re saying, like, what’s going to motivate a new
constituency or a new voting population, then where have we not gone before? So we always talk about, oh, going in the church
basement and meeting the communities where they are, but sometimes those aren’t the same thing. It’s like if we’re always going in
the church basement, those are folks who are probably going to turn out anyway. But are we going to the high school is at the local
public schools that are often forgotten? Are we always going to that magnet school that we know is already funded by a university?
Or are we going to dispensaries if we want to pass marijuana laws? Or are we going directly in communities like we know they have a
Planned Parenthood or we know they have an abortion clinic in their community? But are we actually talking to the citizens and
talking to the people who really need this service? And again, like I, as someone who graduated university, I am very proud of myself.
But in addition, I am the only one in my family who graduated from university. So are we talking to my cousins who are back in Detroit
and who are doing these things? So I think that is a importance, is like what’s going to be on the ballot. And we have to ask the
community members who we haven’t typically asked before. They may not be in church on Sunday, they may not be in school or in
university classrooms on Monday. So where are we going different in the community? Are we going to the jazz festivals where we
know that these artists are going to show up to? Are we going to different summer jams festivals or things like that? So I think a key
way of finding these things out is to survey the parts of the community that we haven’t typically reached before.
You’re spot on. We do. We have to reach all the constituencies, which really is everyone. Everyone has the right to vote and needs to
understand and appreciate that. Maria, you were talking about trash pickup, sidewalk accessibility, that those things are all on the
ballot. And so if you are concerned about any issue, right, there is a way to make your voice heard by casting a ballot. And if we’re
engaging the same constituencies right, then we’re only going to maybe get a limited constituency that has one particular concern
that maybe has been longstanding, that gets addressed through the ballot. So. Maria, I want to raise the same question with you that
I just raised with Cece. Cece had talked about giving folks something to vote for. So, Maria, what are those opportunities that will
bring folks in the disability community to the ballot box? What are folks concerned about? What are they thinking about at any level of
I think that there are sort of two levels. There is defense and offense. We see the importance of both of these things in what’s
happening around voting rights. Some of the work that all of us are having to do, the whole of the pod squad is really defend the
systems that are currently there, even though we know that they are inadequate and have weaknesses. And then in other states we
might be playing offense, right? We might be able to push for more progressive voting options and access to the ballot. And the
same is true in the disability community. For some folks making sure that the Americans with Disabilities Act is not eroded and that
other disability civil rights protections like Section 504 stay in place is a really big deal. Every year at the federal level, we see threats
to these laws and they often have names like the ADA Notification Act, which sounds totally harmless and in fact would completely
erode the spirit of the law. Medicaid expansion continues to be a huge issue, and that’s both an offense and defense issue because
we have states that still haven’t expanded in the 12 plus years that it’s been an option. And we have states where Medicaid continues
to be under threat. Another area where there’s a core of sort of defensive posture that we have to take is continued funding within
disability services and supports systems. So things like funding and support for independent living, home and community based
services area agencies on aging.
We really have to be vigilant to make sure that these funding levels don’t drop the same thing around inclusive education and funding
of individuals with disabilities Education Act services. On the offensive side, I think that core issues are things like broadband
expansion and funding. There is a huge digital divide in the disability community are experienced by disabled people. This is a result
of both our significant experiences with poverty and aging. The majority of disabled people in the U.S. are older adults, and when I
say that, I mean like older adults of color, native and tribal, older adults as well. There are other pieces that I think are hugely
motivating. Things like accessible transportation, affordable and accessible housing continue to be really significant. And I think what
you’re hearing me say is that all issues are disability issues. And what’s going to motivate disabled people to vote is that when we see
candidates on any side of the spectrum who get that right and who recognize that we’re here all too often, we don’t even see
candidates addressing disabled voters. And so right now, I think, unfortunately, we have a really low bar for being excited, which is
that people just use the word disability. And I want to get us to a place where we demand more than that.
Yes, our standards must be set much higher than that. We are glad that the term disability is being an accessibility. Those terms are
being worked into the mainstream and are part of those running for office. Their platforms are agendas, but the reality is we actually
need those terms to be more than a hashtag. We need folks to actually understand what it means. If you are committing yourself to a
civil rights disability rights agenda, well then these are the policies that need to be pursued. This is what it actually looks like. And
Maria, you actually talked about holding electeds accountable. So you get folks there, you then need to hold them accountable. And
so I want us to talk a little bit about how we do that because, yes, great. We know we need to increase numbers. We need everyone
voting here. Right. But turnout is not enough. Once you get someone in office, we need to ensure that that elected is actually
honoring the agenda. Adhering to the agenda that was put forward is what got this person elected. What are some of the ways you
work with your constituency to ensure that electeds are held accountable once they are installed?
We’ve done a couple of things and just to describe. How we orient this work. We have an initiative called Rev Up. Rev Up stands for
Register, Educate, Vote, Use Your Power. And so the accountability piece I think fits into that use your power pillar very well. What
we have set up is 32 different state disability voting coalitions. So these are collections of individuals and organizations, some of
which are disability specific. But many League of Women Voters chapters, for example, are a member of these coalitions and other
organizations. And part of it is making sure we work with these coalitions to help educate people on how to meet with your elected
officials. What that means when you go and talk to a staffer, we may highlight key issues that are going on in the state and basically
provide support to do mobilizations or advocacy alerts. Sometimes we actually hear from them, Hey, we need a AAPD’s support and
amplification of these key items so that we can hold our elected officials accountable. And we’ll work across our network to provide
backing and support for, let’s say, key disability organizers in Detroit.
One of the other things that we do is help people host inclusive town halls and forums. We help provide resources and technical
expertise. And I think that that is a really important point when we’re talking about voter engagement, outreach and accountability is
that these things, they take passion and they take a sort of willingness, but they also take resources. And so one thing that I would
ask everybody to do is begin to budget for inclusion and accessibility so that it is no longer an afterthought. And that is something
that we have to stress with all of our networks as well and begin to going back to something that, like Cece said, think about who you
haven’t reached before. We need all of our organizations to take that message in. So the other thing that we do a lot of is work with
our coalitions to expand their tables, expand who is at the table so that when they are working to hold elected officials in those in
power accountable, they are truly kind of representative of broad coalitions and presenting nuanced and intersectional
recommendations that don’t leave anybody behind.
Cece, what about you? What is happening on LDF’s end to ensure that those electeds who are installed as a result of black voter
turnout specifically, right, are doing the things that we sent them to do wherever it may be local, state or federal level.
So a key thing that LDF is doing is providing resources. And in our lovely see three fashion, we provide resources, facts and
interpretations, and we allow community members to make of that what they will. I think a great example is our redistricting work in
Louisiana, where we created maps to say, hey, like we know that you have these districts for the U.S. congressional districts in
Louisiana, but you only have one majority district when you could have two. So we created those resources in those maps for
community members and for our partner organizations, and they work with state legislatures to say, hey, like we’re actually going to
put this into a bill and submit these maps for redistricting. So creating those resources in just saying like, hey, these are some things
that we have. This is what you can provide to your state legislatures, and those are some things that we can do with it. So I think
that’s probably the most efficient way is to create things and allow the community members to know what’s best for them. So that’s
also a key thing, especially as a national organization, is that we don’t like to go into communities and say, we notice this thing. You
guys should probably change it. Like, nah like no one can tell you what’s best for your city, your district, your state, your county, your
parish. You are the best person to determine what’s best for your environment and your neighborhood. And then you want to use
national organizations to figure out how we can not just fund in terms of just sending money, but how we can work together to make
sure that all resources needed are provided.
Something that you both are touching on. Even though we’re talking about two particular constituencies, we’re talking about the
disability community, we’re talking about black community, people of color. So we’re talking about disability access, we’re talking
about racial justice. But Maria, you made this point that really when you take a look at the issues of importance to us, these are issues
that are shared across the board. Disability issues are our issues, racial justice issues are your issues. We all really have a shared
civil rights agenda. And so even though we’re talking about how we’re reaching particular constituencies with respect to voting, I want
to talk a little bit about how we are expanding the table, as you described it, Maria, how are we coming together? How are we working
together so that we’re really talking about a shared civil rights agenda here? And we are not just having one off conversations about
a particular constituency. Now, those are very important conversations to have these one off conversations about constituencies. But
as we know, we are stronger as a collective. So Maria and Cece, I want you both to talk a little bit about how we’re bringing sort of
others along with us. How we’re getting folks to realize that your issues are my issues in terms of the groups that have been most
marginalized and disenfranchised throughout our history. So Cece, let me start with you and hear a little bit about maybe how your
partnering with other allies to expand this interest in voting and to increase voter turnout.
So we’re partnering with different organizations, especially like in our target states along the South. But I actually wanted to shout out
Maria and as much as she doesn’t know that she taught me in my time in Leadership Conference, I love listening to her talk and
almost every meeting that I attended with her. And a key thing at LDF, we have a poll monitor program where we send people to
polling locations to check if they open on time, if there’s any voter intimidation or anything that the polling location needs assistance
with. And the key thing that we always find is that these polling locations are not accessible. And it’s also a huge red flag because a
lot of these are at schools and at community centers that should already be accessible. So we go and we make sure we check for
van accessible parking, if doorknobs are able to be opened with a closed fist. If you have a polling location that is not the main
entrance, is that actual accessible parking close to the actual polling location door or is it close to the main door? We know the
intersectionality exists, but we just want to make sure that we’re looking out for multiple communities, even if it’s outside of what I
guess our I mean, honestly, I think our audience is everyone that needs to vote. So I don’t want to say target audience. So that’s just
one way that we collab and we work specifically with state organizations similar to what I said before in terms of we can’t tell anybody
what’s best for their community. So how are we working with fraternities and sororities and folks in Huntsville, but also for some folks
in Biloxi, Mississippi, to figure out what can work across boards and even having those organizations across the state. So Alabama’s
going through redistricting. Louisiana’s going through redistricting. How can we make a bridge to support one another? And similar
efforts with also recognizing our differences and learning from those differences as well.
Maria, how are you all expanding your reach, expanding coalition and the tables at which you’re sitting?
Before I answer that, Cece, I was actually going to shout out you and the work of LDF.
I love this love fest. I love it. Coalition at its finest.
Yeah. I don’t know if you know, but I’m from Louisiana. Who? I am. So mad. Yeah, it happens. Yeah. And I actually lived in Louisiana
for a long time. My whole family is there, and I used all these resources to make sure I understood what was going on with the
redistricting effort. And I’m again still so mad at what’s going on. And anyway, just you all have done incredible work and I’m really
glad you’re there. So to answer your question, an example that I’m actually I’m really proud of is what we’ve done on abortion and
reproductive health this year to provide a little bit of historical context. Abortion is an incredibly tense issue in the disability community
and that has a lot to do with issues related to selective abortion and the fact that so many people who pursue prenatal testing decide
to abort their fetus if it tests positive for things like Down’s syndrome. That’s a hugely concerning issue. Up until very recently, our
organization had not taken a position on abortion, reproductive health or reproductive justice. And we were able to work with our
board to take a position to say that any restriction on abortion is wrong and we’ll not solve the issues at stake, and that bodily
autonomy is a core principle of the disability rights movement.
As a result of that position, we were able to incorporate related positions on abortion and reproductive justice and health care into our
rev up voting issues guide, so that in our work with various state coalitions, we can highlight, you know, abortion is on the ballot and
the issues that this brings up for disabled people. And I think what’s really important is that the majority of people with disabilities
don’t identify as disabled. Like, do you all know somebody who will say like, yeah, I’ve got this condition? But you say like, isn’t that a
disability? And they’re like, No, what I think we are trying to do this year is make sure that folks who may not see themselves kind of in
the category of disability can still see themselves in our materials. I’m really excited about what we’re going to be able to do and what
Thank you so much, you two, for again really showcasing in real time how folks are working together, learning from one another, and
pushing forward a shared civil rights agenda. I really appreciate you two for doing that. So, look, if folks are not yet convinced on all of
the reasons why one should vote, all of the things that are on the ballot, what can we do to bring them along? So at the start of the
conversation, I talked about how if someone tells me not to do something, oh, I’m about to do it right? Can we offer the perspective
that voting is in fact, an act of defiance? Right. That by staying at home, that by sort of settling into this posture of, you know, my vote
doesn’t count, it’s not going to matter. Right. That that really gets no one individually or collectively anywhere. So how can we
motivate folks? Hey, you want to do something that you’re not supposed to do? Well, hey, go ahead and vote. I think you all have
made a compelling case in this conversation. But look, if someone is still not convinced, what do we say to them Cece? How is an act
of voting consistent with sort of defying the sort of societal expectations?
Voting is an act of defiance because it is stronger and like collective power. And we’ve seen over time that they know that we’re
stronger together and that voting is a direct act of saying, hey, we’re going to come together as a community and make this decision.
So, yes, a decision that you make in federal and midterm elections in Kansas is going to affect me as a black woman from Detroit.
The votes that you cast in your school board election or your local parish or county elections, those are going to matter to other little
black girls in your county. So it’s a way that you can have a positive impact on someone else’s life. It’s also a way that you can have a
negative impact in someone else’s life. So I don’t want to put the weight of the world on your shoulders and it’s not on your shoulders,
but it is like on your elbow. So there’s there’s certain lists that I think as a community that we need to come together and pull together
and ultimately is your choice. We do want you to feel full autonomy in who you vote for and how you vote, but it’s not a burden. It’s
honestly like I found voting in elections when I needed autonomy in my life, when I felt like every decision was being made for me,
and then like loans and debt and everything was just kind of coming on me. And then I found elections and it was a way for me to find
my voice and impact others and create change so that others didn’t have to go through what I was currently going through. So I think
my final word is that it is your decision. You have autonomy, but just try to think of community and as a collective and what can that
do for you and what can that do for generations that come after you?
Perfect. Thank you. Cece. Maria?
I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that a lot of people who may choose not to vote are still engaged in a whole lot of
ways. And I think this idea that it’s this binary of choosing to vote or choosing to stay home is completely false. That may be true for
some people, but it’s not true for everyone. And I think if we start from a place of like don’t choose to stay home and go vote, it turns
people off immediately. One conversation might say like, Hey, I know that you are out here organizing for clean water in Jackson.
Can you go stop by the polling place the next time you go out for your shift? I know you’re out here helping big brothers and big
sisters and helping to make sure that kids have something to do after school. Next time you’re at this community center, can you go
cast a vote? Like recognizing how people are already contributing, I think can be really powerful. I also think for a lot of people, myself
included, voting can be an enormous hassle, both during the pandemic and when we are seeing so many threats of violence
associated with voting.
It can be a threat to people’s physical safety and lives. Part of convincing people to vote is telling them how you are going to show up
for them. What do you need? What can I do for you? How can we support each other? Voting is about collective power, but that
collective power, that community power, community support actually starts before someone cast their ballot. There have been so
many times where I would not have been able to vote because of physical access issues to a polling place or to a ballot box. If I
hadn’t had other people with me. And that’s frustrating for me, right? Because I should be able to go vote independently and
anonymously, just like the laws they were supposed to. But that’s not real for me, and that’s not real for a whole lot of people. How
am I going to show up for you to help you vote? And how are we going to show up together to increase our collective political power?
Absolutely. Maria, as we talk about ways in which we can show up for those folks who want to vote, can you talk a little bit about
some of those barriers, specifically barriers for the disability community that we need to work on eliminating in order to ensure we’re
doing our part? Right. You’re exactly right. We shouldn’t make the assumption that folks don’t want to vote, that it’s an either or I’m
going to stay on my couch or I’m all out. I’m about to go to the ballot box and get my I voted Today sticker. Right. What can we do to
ensure that we are giving folks the supports they need, the resources they need to vote?
So I think Cece already mentioned some great things. You know, she talked about polling place accessibility. She talked about things
like parking and doors. But there are so many barriers. I think one huge barrier is ID requirements. Many disabled people do not
drive. Again, there’s a huge chunk of older adults, particularly older adults of color, who do not have current IDs. Making sure that
voting is not contingent upon having a current ID will remove huge barriers to voting. I think the core issues that so many of us are
motivated by extending voting hours, increasing access to things like ballot boxes and drive thru voting. All of these things will
remove barriers, but for a lot of people with disabilities, what we need to know is will there be somebody at the polling place who is
actually going to know how to operate the accessible ballot marking device? Are you going to make sure that this device actually
works? Can I’ll use myself as an example. One time I went to vote. I need an accessible machine because I need to sit when I vote.
And it wasn’t working. So I go to the poll worker and I say, Hi, is there any way we can get this machine to work? And they say, It’s a
short ballot, you’ll be fine. So my options were like, be forced to stand, right? Which is very difficult for me to do or not vote. One time
because I didn’t have a Texas ID, actually twice because I didn’t have a Texas specific ID, I was told I couldn’t vote. And thankfully,
because I knew my rights, I had to say like, No, this is wrong.
But for a lot of people, that conversation is not something that they feel comfortable or safe doing. And so who’s going to be there for
them? Things like providing water for folks standing in line is getting harder in states like Georgia. That is a disability voting rights
issue. Things like providing transportation. This is one of the things that we were able to do with rev up Texas and in Rev Up Georgia
as well. We provided funding for state disability vote coalitions to mobilize transportation, particularly for rural voters, and they were
able to help get folks to the polls. I find this very frustrating. A lot of times Uber and Lyft and other transit network companies will
provide free rides to the polls, which is awesome and I’m really glad they do that. But these services also will tell you that they are
technology companies and not transportation services, so they do not have to provide accessible service, which means that disabled
people are left out in the cold. So we have to figure out ways to provide our own accessible transportation to the polls, and doing so
can be hugely helpful. Many disabled people choose to vote from home. Sometimes that process is not accessible. Ballots are
confusing, and so what ways can you provide support to disabled people who may be voting from home or voting from a congregate
setting to ensure that they’re able to get their votes in on time? And things like signature verification processes don’t cause their votes
to be thrown out in the end.
I want to just highlight that we need poll workers. As much as we need poll monitors, and we need folks to make sure we check in
uplift polling locations to check their accessibility and that they’re nice and safe. An issue that Maria encountered with going into the
polling location machines. I used to work at Department of Elections in Detroit and as a trainer it was really fantastic and I was excited
to teach these things to my poll workers. However, the poll worker age in Detroit is leaning towards those who are not as familiar with
technology. So if you are sitting, you know, at home and you are like, oh, you know, it’s September, you still have a lot of time to go
through training to be a poll worker. We need you in the polls working on Election Day to make sure that folks are able to access
these machines, because it’s just a bit of sometimes a generational difference in learning that that is a bit of technology. But we want
to make sure that everyone has access to the ballot and you might notice things that others may not. So it is really, really important to
be a poll worker if you want to know what steps you can take after Election Day. Oh, I got some news for you. It’s some things you
can do before Election Day. So go ahead and go through trainings, become a poll worker. There’s even a financial incentive in most
states. So I do want to make sure that I highlight that as well. And that is a key accessibility issue for many folks, is to make sure that
you are actually there working the polls and there’s not a poll shortage. And we’re not putting like a lot of elderly or more seasoned
folks in harm’s way, either with COVID 19 being a still pandemic. So we want to make sure that we’re looking out for one another
there as well.
We need diverse poll workers, especially poll workers who speak more languages than English. This comes up consistently in our
work with organizations like Voto Latino or Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, having a poll workers who don’t just show you a
sheet and point and who can actually explain what’s happening and explain the process can make the difference between folks
feeling confident and voting and folks choosing not to vote.
Diverse poll workers. Absolutely. We need them. We need to figure out how to make sure that our polling places are accessible that
are represented by the diverse constituency of folks who are going to be turning out to vote. Cece, are there additions you would
make to that? In terms of what we need to do to make sure we’re resourcing and supporting folks in getting to the ballot box.
I would recommend tapping in with what’s in your community. So a lot of what LDF does is that we work with local, state, county
partners, so we can say roll into the polls in Montgomery where we can say one voice in Mississippi. So knowing what your state
needs and who’s working in your state is the easiest way to tap in. You are more than welcome to go on NAACPLDF.Org and go to
our website and see a lot of the partners that we work with and also find state specific resources so you can know what’s going on in
your community. Even uplifting what Maria said in terms of the ballot process, especially if you want to vote absentee or early voting,
can be extremely difficult so knowing how to get ahead of that. If you or your mother or your father or family member or loved one is
planning on voting in that process, there are steps you’re going to need to do ahead of time. So those resources are available on our
website. So just not just be informed, but let’s y’all let’s be involved. Like this is the time. Like if there’s any time to save democracy,
y’all, it is literally today like, look at your clock. That time that you’re seeing right now is the time to be involved in saving democracy.
Because when I say it’s not promised tomorrow, it’s not. But as we’ve been uplifting this entire episode is that it’s going to take
collective power. Yeah, you hear that? You word in your ear, I’m talking to you. You are going to be so important to, you know,
building a better future and having a democracy as good as its ideals, as my lovely leadership conference loves to say. So that is a
key thing. It’s just making sure that you are personally involved. You are more than welcome to reach out to me personally and again,
those resources will be at NAACPLDF.org.
So Cece, you have identified how folks can get involved, how they can connect with resources at LDF. Maria How can folks get
involved with you?
National Disability Voting Rights Week is September 12th through the 16th through rev up. And if you want to, you can go to
AAPD.com/RevUp and find all of our resources. If you don’t want to be a partner for our kind of week of action, that’s great. Because
guess what? As Cece mentioned, like any time is a good time to save democracy and we need partners all year round. So we’ve got
all kinds of resources regarding key issues for disabled voters, disability voting rights across the country. And then soon we will have
a disability voting rights guide for all 50 states and territories, which I’m very excited about. AAPD.com/RevUp.
We could continue this conversation for many more hours. However, we are definitely approaching time and so I want to really just
acknowledge what a great conversation we have had. We talked a lot today about giving folks something to vote for, making sure
that folks are able to vote, eligible to vote, and public safety is certainly on the ballot. Community safety is on the ballot. And so Vote
for Justice wants to educate folks on those community safety issues. They should be thinking about when they are considering what
elected they’re going to install and also thinking about the disenfranchisement that has occurred with respect to those with criminal
histories. So we want to make sure that we don’t have continued barriers to any population. But right now we know that there are a
good number of laws on the books that prevent folks with criminal histories from voting. So Vote for Justice is also pushing for a
platform that would install electeds who do not support that. Let’s be sure to circle back to all of the resources that all of my
colleagues have offered today. Let me also plug our Vote for justice effort, which comes out of our Vision for Justice platform, which
is at visionforjustice.org. This has been such a great conversation. I want to give a special thanks to my guests, Cece Huddleston
and Maria Town, for joining us today. We truly appreciate you sharing your time and adding your voice to Pod for the call.
Listeners, thank you for joining us today on POD for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and
Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. To stay connected with us, please visit CivilRights.org and hit us up
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thanks to our executive producer Evan Hartung, and our production team, Graham Bishai, Bennu Amen Tatiana Montalvo, Sarah
Edwards, Dena Craig and Shin Inouye. That’s it for me, your host, Kanya Bennett. Until next time ,together – let’s keep fighting for an
America as good as its ideals.