Our guest author today is Rui Rui Bleifuss, a disability activist and senior at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul, MInnesota.
It was November 2, 2021. Slightly annoyed and nervous, I walked into a room to do something I’d never done before.
I was annoyed because it was the end of the first semester of my senior year in high school, and I was way too busy. It seemed like I was going out of my way to do something important but routine, something that was taking me away from more immediate concerns. I had so much homework, but here I was, on my way to vote for the very first time.
I was nervous because I didn’t know how I would be treated. Empowered and supported? Discouraged and suppressed? I am an Asian American woman who is physically disabled. I knew about so many people who had experienced voter discrimination, and the many states trying to pass voter suppression laws. I’d never heard of a first time voter being supported, so why would I expect anything like that?
I had been so excited in the months leading up to this. But now voting just felt like another thing I needed to check off my to-do list.
As I walked into the room I was greeted by two friendly faces–or eyes and eyebrows I should say, because we were all wearing masks. I approached the young woman sitting at the table in front of me. My nerves started to subside as she told me that she was only 19, and it was her first time being an election judge. She quickly registered me and offered me words of congratulations.
I moved on to the people at the next table who walked me through the voting steps. When they got to the part about filling out bubbles on the voting form, and how it was so important to be precise, I froze. My nerves came back. I have a disability called Charcot Marie Tooth that affects my strength, balance and fine motor skills. Filling out forms like that can be challenging. I didn’t want to accidentally color outside the bubbles and have my vote be nullified.
I voiced my concerns and asked what kinds of accommodations there were for people like me. They eagerly explained that polling places in Minnesota have something called a ballot marking machine. The ballot marking machine was something that I could use to indicate my vote on a full-sized computer screen, and when I was done the machine would fill in the bubbles on my ballot for me.
I voted on the ballot marking machine, printed out the paper, and fed it to the counter. Then I proudly put on the “I voted” sticker and walked out the door.
This experience sparked me to research other voting accommodations for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and access to voting as those without disabilities. This link provides information on what accommodations should be available in your polling place.
I voted. It would have been so easy not to, but it was unequivocally worth it. My first experience voting was positive and affirming, but I know that’s not true for everyone. Courageous people have fought–and continue to fight –to guarantee voting rights for all eligible voters in this country, including those with disabilities. It’s important that we all work together to make sure that the rights we do have are preserved, and those we still demand are achieved.
I’m glad I took the time to vote. I made my voice heard. Will you?