What Are We Voting For?

Groups like Rock the Vote and VotER have worked hard to rekindle America’s passion for democracy, but there’s a clear and persistent gap between those who believe their vote will matter and those who do not. On September 17, Alberto Cifuentes Jr, LMSW facilitated a Virtual Anti-Racism Summit panel where he invited two University of Connecticut social work students to share their journeys from apathy to activism.

These panelists’ stories mirrored those of many Americans – young, POC, disabled, poor, or those with other marginalized identities – who doubt the impact of casting a ballot. The session was an opportunity to explore both sides of the issue, to unpack the complicated subject of American democracy and the stigma that is applied to those who lack faith in it. Yes, democracy only works if enough of us show up, but each individual faces a very different journey to get here.

Those in favor of voting usually frame it as a matter of exercising one’s civil rights. To vote means to place your trust in an elected official who you believe will best represent the causes and protect the rights you hold most dear. Participating in elections, especially local and state ones, has an impact on education, healthcare, housing, mental health services, immigration, emergency services, policing, and human rights as a whole. This is not idealism; when democracy is working at its very best, power can be used to protect and empower our people.

Aside from the obvious benefits of voting, there is the flip side – not voting can have huge consequences. Voter burn-out and indifference give strength to the opposing party or contested policy and create division among people who have similar ideals and politics but varying levels of trust or mistrust in the system. This is why die-hard politicos criticize write-in voters, who cast their ballot for an official not formally in the running (such as someone who dropped out earlier in the race). The rationale is often something like, “not voting for Candidate A equals a vote for Candidate B.” Though the efficacy of write-in voting has been debated, it is a valid option in many states and it presents a way for disenchanted voters to make their voices heard even if they don’t want to support the nominees on the ballot.

That active voters are overwhelmingly White, moderate- to upper-income, highly educated, and stably employed tells us a lot about who benefits from our current political system. Despite having multiple options for voters, including mail-in and absentee ballots, early voting, and election day voting, none of these choices are without pitfalls. Mail-in ballots create access for voters with mobility issues or who are medically at-risk and can’t show up to crowded spaces in person, but officials have been struggling for decades to deal with widespread ballot rejection and misplacement. This is a huge concern for swing states in particular.

Early voting helps those who can vote in person but aren’t sure they’ll be able to get to the polls on election day. However, if one casts their ballot early in a primary election for a candidate who then withdraws (the Democratic primaries this summer had 15) after they vote, they don’t get a second chance. Absentee ballots are also a useful tool for younger voters who are away at college – a population that tends to swing liberal – but postmark rules are strict and many voters won’t receive a ballot by election day. Unless a voter is affluent, healthy, has childcare, transportation, and/or a consistent work schedule, a lot could come between them and the ballot box. And, at the end of the day, the electoral college still serves to steamroll the popular vote, a policy we have yet to get rid of.

Flaws aside, the importance of voting in our current political situation is undeniable, but the U.S. voting system also disregards the hundreds of years of subjugation and disenfranchisement that have become embedded in many Americans’ lives, heightened by judgment and stigma. Pro-voting advocates argue that democracy is what sets us apart from less civilized societies. This is the type of paternalistic, “us versus them” thinking that leads to victim-blaming.

Experiencing voting as an act of empowerment is a privilege not all of us will enjoy. After hitting one barrier after another, from the terrorism of the Jim Crow south to today’s covert racist and classist policies, we should be able to understand when those who’ve faced suppression begin to shut down and turn away from the democratic process. This is so common that it has actually earned its own name: psychological voter suppression. Practices like roll purging, felony voting laws, ID requirements, misinformation, reducing poll locations, manipulated district lines, and harassment are all responsible for the downtick in voter morale and participation. Before we attack eligible voters for not turning out to the polls, let’s reflect on the reasons for their ambivalence and attend to those root causes. If a person votes for their chosen party their entire adult life and never sees the kinds of meaningful change that will assure their and their community’s safety and future, what are they really voting for?

So what can be done to increase voter turnout and reduce barriers? A few things:

Vote. If you’re able to vote without sacrificing your physical, financial, or emotional safety, do it! Register before your state’s deadline (usually 10 days prior to the election) – vote.org offers a state by state list of deadlines. You can check your voter registration status, look up early voting dates, and register for a mail-in or absentee ballot here through your state’s election office.

Assist. If you’re registered to vote in your state and want to go in person, coordinate your election day travel plans with other voters in your household and neighborhood. Round up others like you with privilege and access and encourage them to do the same. Companies like Lyft and Uber are offering discounted rides to the polls; community-based groups like RideShare2Vote are booming; and your local AARP office, doctor’s office, place of worship, or City Hall can help too. 

Empathize. Practice humility, and accept that your lived experience is not the same as others. Don’t make assumptions about who is able to vote. Don’t shame or blame people from marginalized communities who can vote and choose not to. Trust that they’re doing what they need to survive in an oppressive world, and that healing has to come first. Cast your ballot for officials (especially in local and state elections) whose policies will advance the good of the whole, not the few. 

Organize. Canvassing and joining phone banks are a couple of ways to spread the word about candidates you believe in. Hone in on efforts like prison abolition, refugee rights, or labor protections for non-traditional workers. Felony disenfranchisement laws, for example, mean that in 2016, over six million Americans (the vast majority Black) could not vote because of their legal status. Understand that anti-oppression work improves democracy. Be willing to relinquish a little of your privilege so that others can possess more agency in their own lives. 

Finally, if you have ever felt reluctant to turn out for an election because you lack faith in the outcome or don’t see your identities represented in the candidates, run for office and bring the changes you know are needed. The system is working exactly as designed – it’s up to the people to change it. 

Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

ICE Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information Undermining 2018 Election Administration

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

https://twitter.com/marceelias/status/1037153473412911105

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.

We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.

Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.

Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

Social Work Allies Join Forces with Rock the Vote to Register Voters

naswboard

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is partnering with Social Work Helper Magazine, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) on a nationwide Rock the Vote registration drive.

During the #SWRocktheVote campaign, which runs September 12-30, social workers and their allies are encouraged to each register five people to vote using the Social Work Helper mobile app, online registration forms or mail-in forms.

“NASW and the social work profession have a long history of ensuring everyone has the right to cast a ballot, dating back to social work’s role in the women’s suffrage movement a century ago and NASW’s involvement in the passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965,” NASW CEO Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, said. “NASW is proud to be a part of this campaign with AASWSW, Social Work Helper, the Council on Social Work Education and Rock the Vote and encourages social workers reach out to their family members, friends and colleagues to see if they are registered to vote and encourage them to register if they have not done so.”

“This is an opportunity for a small individual action to make a huge collective impact that can be measured” says Deona Hooper, MSW, founder and editor-in-chief of Social Work Helper Magazine.

“The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) is all in on Rocking the Vote because we support civic engagement and understand that competent social behavior is critical to our nation’s success and voting for those who support social work and science is social behavior at its best,” said AASWSW President Richard Barth, PhD, MSW.

“Let’s use the power of over 750 accredited social work programs in the country, with over 100,00 students enrolled, to Rock the Vote!” urges Darla Spence Coffey, president and CEO of the Council on Social Work Education.

Thanks @RepBarbaraLee for helping us to launch #SWRockTheVote today. #socialwork #mentalhealth .@nasw .@aaswsworg pic.twitter.com/wd0YWa4hsN

— Social Work Helper (@swhelpercom) September 12, 2016

For more information on how to get involved with the campaign, including information on the Social Work Helper app, online voter registration web forms and downloadable mail-in voter registration forms go to: http://www.socialworkblog.org/advocacy/2016/09/join-swrockthevote-campaign/.

More Social Workers Needed for Political Action

rock-the-vote-president-discusses-plans-for-getting-latino-millenials-politically-active-during-2015

It is time for social workers to begin to flex our political muscles because not much will change in the pursuit of social justice. Until there are more people in the political arena fighting for a more just and equitable society, opportunities for everyone willing to put in the effort will not become a reality.

Many of the politicians in office at all levels of government need to be retired. They need to be voted out of office, but until more people are energized to go to the polls, too many corrupt and selfish politicians will remain in office to the detriment of society. As many social workers as possible are needed to replace these unfit elected officials in office while other social workers are needed to mobilize voters and manage campaigns to elect new leaders, change unjust laws and policies, and get government working for the people and not just the few. It’s been repeated so often, it is now a cliché.

Political activism is not for the faint of heart. It sometimes takes all of the toleration for sleaze one can muster to roll up your sleeves and dive headlong into political campaigns. Attacks on candidates are considered necessary strategy if you want to win an election. Charges and accusations against your opponent do not necessarily have to be true if you can make some of the mud stick, so there is much innuendo, conspiracy theories, and circumstantial hypotheticals. These tactics are designed to discourage voters from even wanting to participate in the process—to become jaded and lose all interest in political participation and leave elections to the cutthroats and ethically challenged. These scenarios are extreme but political warfare can get pretty ugly.

It is important that people of conscience, people for whom a more just and egalitarian society are sincere goals, stay involved in political struggles because politics may just be the last frontier in the fight for social justice. Human institutions are invariably susceptible to corruption—from religion to politics and everywhere in between. Politics attracts more corruption because of the power and resources that often come with holding elected office.

New accounts of political corruption seem to break daily. Someone gets caught trying to redirect government funds into the bank accounts of friends or those they are trying to bribe. Or exploiting or creating loopholes in the law that will allow some or all of their campaign funds to find their way into their personal bank accounts.

Not everyone in political office is there for personal gain. The majority of people who seek office do so hoping to better the lives of the people they represent. Many work diligently to resist and escape temptations that would invite their baser instincts to rule. Many do resist although some may succumb to minor indiscretions like breaking franking rules—mailing more items than the rules allow.

Political systems that function on money transfers are ripe for corruption. The more money, the greater the temptation, the greater opportunity and the more likely corruption will occur which is why the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should go down in history as one of the most undemocratic actions ever perpetrated. Until the influence of money is reduced, politics will attract the corruptible.

So why should social workers want to wade into the cesspool of political warfare? It is a necessary undertaking. Social workers are equipped with skills and knowledge that will work against all the corrupting influence in politics. Social workers are guided by a code of ethics that challenges us to do the right thing by our clients, our colleagues, and society at large. Social workers are not perfect and social workers do break rules but we are not inherently rule breakers. More social workers in politics would reduce corruption.

Getting more social workers involved in politics is not the panacea to what ails America. But it’s a start. Social workers are empowering individuals, families and communities. Social workers are doing quality research and focusing more on making that research relevant to policy discussions but the political system is a mess and some effort must be put into restoring integrity in government. As long as money is the primary language spoken in the halls of government the lines between quid pro quo will continued to be blurred.

The Purpose of Education in a Democratic Society

education

The purpose of education in a democratic society is to instill the values of cooperation, fairness and justice into the hearts of our students. I would argue that these values are essential to maintaining and improving a functioning democracy in any country. In Canada, our democracy is in serious need of a shake up. We have rising inequality due to an economic system based on competition and profit, we have a Prime Minister who is acting more and more like an authoritarian dictator and we have followed pace with the United States in dismantling the public good over the last forty years.

As a social studies teacher, and a concerned citizen, I often ask myself what do I want my students to be able to contribute to in their lives. Of course I want them to have successful lives in which they are able to follow their passions but I also want them, regardless of their profession, to be able to contribute to our democracy in some way. Democracy is at the heart of my teaching practice as I see my classroom as a microcosm of what our world could be. I want to create the conditions in my classroom where the principles of democracy reign supreme. I want my students to participate in the process of establishing class rules and culture. I want my students to have a voice in how they can demonstrate their knowledge as well as how they are assessed academically. In other words, I want to share the power in the classroom with my students.

Now, for many teachers reading this you may be thinking that I’m crazy to give up “control” in my classroom. But what we have to understand as educators is that our jobs is not to “control” students but to empower them to be critically thinking democratic citizens. Teachers must do away with any form of authoritarian teaching method and embrace a more democratic approach to ensure that our students understand that the work of democracy is important and worth while. We have to understand as teachers that even in democratic spaces we still have the authority to ensure the classroom is a safe space for all students but that we engage in dialogue with our students about the reasons for any decision we make and ask for student feedback on how the classroom is run.

We can’t run our schools and classrooms like a dictatorship and then pretend to think that our students will be prepared to be active citizens participating in our democratic system. We also have to ensure that we present democracy as a system and process that is always happening by being involved in our communities and institutions. Voting every election is only one aspect of being an active democratic citizen. Part of our responsibilities as citizens is to work with others collaboratively to accomplish shared goals and dreams. Any rights or freedoms that have been granted by politicians have rarely come independent of citizens demanding them as part of a larger social movement.

We have a crisis of democracy in Canada and Alberta with low voter turnouts and a lack of community in many areas. In Alberta, as students have began demanding Gay-Straight Alliances over more than the past decade it has made many social-conservatives in the province uneasy to say the least. These students are exercising their democratic voice and this week the province has decided that they will not protect this democratic right as the province has chosen to make the very political decision to strike a “balance” between those advocating for GSA’s and those who wish to suppress the voice of marginalized students in our schools.

Democracy is not for the faint of heart and it is something that must be protected by citizens of any country. Our schools must be places where students have a voice that is heard and they must be able to take action on issues that they care about. If we adults seek to limit or silence student voice in our schools and education system then we are condemning our democracy to further degradation. It’s time we make the shift towards a democratic approach to education in our classrooms and schools. If we don’t, our democracy and all of us will suffer for it.

Democratic Education Resources:

  1. Bringing Democratic Education to your Classroom and School

  2. What is Democratic Education

  3. Democratic Classrooms

Voter Suppression? We’ve Got An App For That

Election-Collection-Screenshots

These days it seems like there’s an app for everything. If I can map my daily jog, surely I should be able to use this new technology for a greater good. With this in mind, we set about designing an app that would use mobile technology to help prevent and document incidents of voter suppression. Southern Coalition for Social Justice has launched Election Collection, a data gathering initiative that uses a location-based mobile data collection app to document, track, and rapidly respond to voting irregularities and instances of voter suppression at polling places nationwide for the 2014 General Election.

The app’s design was guided by community geography principles and is directly informed by the array of needs communicated by litigators, organizers and researchers in attendance at the inaugural convening of the Southern Leaders for Voter Engagement in May of this year.Election Collection is a free app designed to help voting rights advocates record instances of voter suppression for use by election protection volunteers as well as voting rights litigators, social scientists, and other voting rights advocates.

This app allows users to nimbly relay the status of Election Day events in real time to both in-house legal response teams and to fellow volunteers on the ground. On Election Day, trained volunteers will be able to log in to personalized accounts and record incidents of voter suppression using its listed forms. The intuitive app is easy to navigate as it follows a simple design that should be familiar to those who have ever filled out a form on a website.

Volunteers can select from a wide range of text fields, drop-down menus, multiple-selection buttons, and photo and audio file attachments to relate a highly accurate and comprehensive account of voter suppression events.
SCSJ, in cooperation with several partner groups, is leading ongoing training sessions for teams of Election Collection volunteers to use the mobile app to gather information from voters on-site at polling locations nationwide.

Each time the app is used to record a voter contact, it will upload immediately to the Election Collection cloud database and mapping service, where it will then be relayed to or conveniently accessed by remote teams of legal monitors at different locations throughout the country. From there, attorneys can effectively respond to voter problems as they arise using the desktop interface in either a map or spreadsheet view. Polling place monitors can similarly view an up-to-the-minute map of recorded incident reports on their smartphones using the mobile app.

The Election Collection app was designed by a community-based activist and researcher in collaboration with organizers, policy analysts, litigators, IT entrepreneurs, and mobile GIS industry specialists. These participatory and multidisciplinary roots account for its characteristic flexibility in form and function. The app is intended to record not only general data that national voting rights advocates, researchers and litigators might desire, but also such information that voting rights advocates at the state and local levels have identified as being critically important to protecting voting rights in their respective areas of operation.

Generally, the app collects data in several categories: voter information, wait time, ability to vote (regular ballot, provisional ballot, no ballot), types of voter problems encountered (voter registration problems, identification problems, etc…), witness information, and media attachment or documentation. It is also configured to support tailored forms to gather data related to state- or locally- specific policies or practices that impede a voter’s access to the ballot.

Election Day collection is designed for two audiences: (1) volunteers in the field, who will have simple interfaces that work across platform and device; (2) back-end users (litigation, policy, research), where immediate voter problems are flagged and routed in real time to attorneys.

Individuals or organizations interested in downloading the app and participating in Election Collection, please contact Sarah Moncelle sarah@scsj.org. Not able to use the app on election day but still want to help? Learn more about the project here.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/105528834[/vimeo]

Should Republicans Gain Control of the US Senate

senate

Should Republicans take control of the United States Senate there will be many political pundits faulting Democrats for their inability to get black voters to go the polls. Why won’t black voters go to the polls in large numbers? Well, it’s a non-presidential election which typically leads to low voter turnout by the party in the White House.

However, this year there is another subplot—black voters are disappointed with President Obama because they have been overlooked during his first six years. Former Harvard University professor Cornell West continues to be an ardent critic and excoriates the President’s record on black issues in his new book.

Dr. West and others point to efforts made by President Obama on behalf of other voting blocs. They rail about what he’s done for gays and lesbians because of his support for gay marriage and the significant legal battles won in recent years. However, the President’s support for same sex marriage was rather tepid during his first term in office. Some say he’s done more for Latinos with his commitment to immigration reform and his executive actions on behalf of Dreamers.

Yet, he passed on any further executive action and the numbers of immigrant deportees remain significantly high. It’s difficult to make the case that President Obama has completely ignored the concerns of black Americans with the aggressive actions taken on their behalf by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department on the issues of voting rights and criminal justice reform. Did not the President recently launch “My Brother’s Keeper”, an initiative for boys and men of color?

In contemplating these “what have you done for me lately” propositions, it occurred to me that social workers might have some concerns as well. How are social workers feeling about the President? What should social workers expect from President Obama? It is well documented that African Americans and Latinos voted for President Obama in large numbers in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, he received 71 percent of the Latino vote and 93 percent of the African American vote.

I have not found any data on the percentage of social workers who voted for President Obama, but I would believe that most social workers are progressive and that he received the majority of our votes. But we are not a large constituency, so why would Democrats care? At about three quarters of a million strong, social workers are not a voting bloc to be feared. However, with our skills at organizing and persuasion, we could easily be a force to reckon with. But right now, that’s potential.

Gay and lesbian voters have a clear agenda—equal rights, freedom to marry, and freedom from discrimination. Latinos have an agenda that is less clear but generally focused on finding a path to documentation if not citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. They have more social and economic concerns, but providing some peace of minds for millions in this country illegally is a high priority.

Likewise, the are many social and economic problems plaguing African Americans, from high unemployment, to disproportionate criminal justice involvement, to low performing schools. However, it is unclear where the President should begin. What are the priorities? What are the policy prescriptions? Someone should have been working on these before President Obama was elected.

There are many social and economic challenges awaiting the next President who just might be Hillary Clinton. Now is the time to set priorities and identify potential policy remedies. What do social workers want from the President? Which issues are most important? But understand, while the President might be willing to support our initiatives, he or she will not do all the work for us.

We must be willing to provide policy ideas, the political strategy and be willing to take the lead on getting things done. That is what lobbyists do. Of course some lobbyists are able to reinforce their agendas by spreading around money, but nothing prevents social workers from helping to draft bills and nothing stops us from working to get more sponsors.

Rock the Disabled Vote in South Carolina!

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

2014 is a midterm election year, and it is imperative for South Carolinians with disabilities to rock the disabled vote!  Voting is our civil right in this country, and you should not be prevented to exercise this right simply because you have a disability.

Your Vote Is Your Voice 1With the June 2014 SC Primary coming upon us, I wanted to ensure that every registered disabled voter in the state was aware of their rights in regards to accessibility, the new Photo ID requirement, and how to file a complaint if your civil rights are violated.  Equal access and justice when it comes to education, healthcare, and employment are just a few key issues that will be affected by how we as citizens vote this year.

People with disabilities are the LARGEST minority group in this country, and make up over 648,000 strong in the Palmetto state; this means that we are an undeniably important voting bloc, and our voting power has to be exercised, now more than ever.


Accessible Voting Machines & Polling Places:

Voting Machines

Each South Carolina voting precinct offers accessible voting machines that has the following features:  audio ballot, headphones, and Braille-embossed buttons. The voting machine’s design makes it user-friendly; and each machine has large fonts, a 15-inch full-color touch screen display, and is lightweight to be portable for curbside and tabletop use.

Polling Places

Each South Carolina county election commission has an obligation to find polling places that are accessible to ALL voters.  For every election season, increasing accessibility at polling places is a priority.  Such accessibility considerations include:

  • Wider entrance doors
  • Entrance ramps and curb cuts
  • Railing along the stairs and sidewalks
  • Paved parking and designated disability parking
  • Van accessible parking spaces
  • Sidewalks from the parking spaces to the building entrance
  • Door handles that can be opened with a closed fist
  • Signs to direct the voter to entrances that are accessible
  • Electronic curbside call systems

Voting Accommodations:

Receiving Assistance When Voting

Voters with disabilities including those with visual impairments, and literacy difficulties, have the right to seek assistance during the voting process.  If you fit into any of these groups, you must inform the poll manager(s) that you will require assistance to vote.  You have the right to choose anyone to assist you in casting your ballot except the following persons:  your employer, an agent to your employer, an officer of your union, or an agent of your union.

If you have a hearing impairment, you have the right to request printed instructions to cast your vote.  The poll manager(s) is required to have this documentation on hand to distribute, as needed.

Curbside Voting

If you are unable to access your assigned polling place or stand in line to vote due to your disability, you may cast your vote from your vehicle.  You do not need to have a disabled parking placard to access the curbside voting option.  Poll managers are supposed to monitor the designated curbside voting location every 15 minutes.  Unless you require assistance to cast your vote, only you are permitted to be in the vehicle while voting.  Your driver and other passengers who may be with you are not entitled to receive this accommodation unless they meet the qualifications (disability status and/or being age 65 or older).

The Photo ID Requirement –  Know Your Options:

2014 will be the first election year in South Carolina where Photo IDs will be required to be shown in order to vote.  When voting in person, the following forms of photo identification will be accepted:

  • SC Driver’s License
  • SC Department of Motor Vehicles ID Card
  • Voter Registration Card with Photo
  • Federal Military ID
  • U.S. Passport

If You Do Not Have a Photo ID

You can get a Photo ID for FREE from your county voter registration and elections office OR your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.

If You Forget to Bring Your Photo ID to Your Polling Place

You have the option to vote a provisional ballot that will count only if you show your Photo ID to the elections commission prior to certification of the election (usually Thursday or Friday after the election).

For the June 2014 SC Primary, you will need to show your Photo ID to your county election commission by Thursday, June 12th before 1:00 p.m.  

For the November 2014 General Elections, you will need to do so by Friday, November 7th before 1:00 p.m..  

If You Cannot Obtain a Photo ID

If you are unable to obtain a Photo ID due to your disability status, you may be able to state that you have a reasonable impediment because of your status.  A reasonable impediment is any valid reason, beyond your control, which has created an obstacle for you to obtain a Photo ID.

How this works

Bring your non-photo voter registration card with you to your designated polling venue, and inform the poll manager(s) about not being able to acquire a Photo ID.  You will be giving the opportunity to vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit, stating your claim for reasonable impediment.

Your provisional ballot will be counted UNLESS someone proves to your county election commission that you lied about your identity or having the impediment.

Other qualifying circumstances for this exception includes:

  • Conflict with work schedule
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of birth certificate
  • Family responsibilities
  • Religious objection to being photographed
  • And any other obstacle you find reasonable

Considering Voting Absentee?:  

Voting absentee is a great option for those who have a disability and/or are elderly, limited transportation options, and/or do not have a photo ID.

Request an Absentee Application

You may request an absentee application by mail or in-person.  If you decide to obtain your absentee application by mail, you can make your request by phone to your county voter registration office, or get the application online.

Once you have received your absentee application, you must complete and sign it, and return it to your county voter registration office as soon as possible.  (Return your application no later than 5:00 p.m. on the 4th day prior to the election.  The 4th day is Friday for all Tuesday elections.)  You may return your application several ways:  by mail, email, fax, or personal delivery.

Completing Your Absentee Ballot

Once your absentee application have been received and processed, you will be mailed an absentee ballot.  In your absentee ballot packet, you will find ballot instructions that will inform you on how to cast your vote absentee.  Once you have completed your ballot, you may either mail it or return it in-person.  You can also designate someone to return the ballot to your county voter registration office on your behalf; be sure to complete the authorization to return absentee ballot form that is in your packet for this option.

If You Experience Voting Discrimination:

Unfortunately, voting discrimination is alive and well in 2014, despite the plethora of federal laws that exist to combat this issue.  If you experience voting discrimination because you are a person with a disability, you have the right to file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  The DOJ takes every complaint and report of your civil rights violation seriously.

The Voting Section of the DOJ oversees possible violations of the federal voting rights laws.  Below are the various ways in which you can file your voting complaint:

  • By telephone (toll free):  (800) 253-3931
  • By telephone:  (202) 307-2767
  • By fax:  (202) 307-3961
  • By letter to the addresses below:

U.S. Postal Service mail (this includes certified and express mail) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
959 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Deliveries by overnight express services (such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006


Where to Learn More About Voting with a Disability in South Carolina:

Most of the information provided in this article was obtained from the SC Votes webpage.  SC Votes has a special tab on its website for voters with disabilities, where you can learn more about voting assistance and curbside voting, watch helpful videos, obtain instructions for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing, and print a large voter registration application.  You can also learn about key deadlines for this election year by reviewing the SC Election Calendar.


For My Non-South Carolinian Disabled Voters:

If you would like to know more about voting with a disability, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a great resource page for voters with disabilities:  http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx


Remember, an informed voter is an 
EMPOWERED voter.  Rock your right to vote!

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of  Your Mira.)

Exit mobile version