IOWA CITY — During a visit to Iowa City by Secretary of State Paul Pate, voters with disabilities shared concerns and asked questions about the state’s new voter ID law.
Seen and Heard, an initiative by nonprofit Systems Unlimited in Iowa City, invited Pate to speak Monday about various resources available to help while they vote early or on Election Day. Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Deidre DeJear was also invited to speak to the group during a similar event last month.
During the meeting, Pate and Dawn Williams, state director of elections, explained various forms of identification that could be used to vote. Pate said voters with disabilities shouldn’t be concerned about the new law because people who frequently receive medical care need an ID.
“You have to help make sure they’re aware of it. That’s why we do these personal meetings. That’s why we work with the various outreach groups and help them be successful,” Pate said. “This is a soft rollout this year. This is an education year. And then on top of that in the future, we always offer provisional ballots so nobody ever should be turned away. I can’t underscore that enough.”
Pate said over the last year, his office has hosted more than 40 community outreach meetings with disability and veterans groups across the state to highlight resources like curbside voting and absentee voting.
“There’s no do-overs for elections. You need to let them vote on Election Day, so we want that to happen for them,” Pate said. “We’ll continue to improve the education component as we see need.”
Mary Helen Kennerly, who is leading Systems Unlimited’s new advocacy community integration efforts, said there is concern that requiring each voter to have an ID is another step that voters with disabilities have to think about in addition to factors like transportation, mobility and if they can read or write on the ballot. Kennerly said the first step used to be determining if a voter was registered. Now it’s figuring out if they also have an ID.
“We have to take special care to prevent barriers to voting like the one voter ID (law) represents when it comes to this population,” Kennerly said. “It places an undo burden on voters with disabilities, for sure. More so than it does you and I who are driving cars as able-bodied people.”
Kinnerly said while its true many people with disabilities have IDs, there can be the question of where it is or who has it. She said it’s often stored with medical paperwork
“It definitely takes away a layer of independence,” Kinnerly said. “It means more assistance. They have to call on more supports to actually get their votes cast.”
Kevin Kolsto, an Iowa City resident who uses a wheelchair, said before the law it was easy for him to vote at the polling place.
“I don’t go to the polling place just in case I forget my wallet,” Kolsto said about voting now. “I’m afraid to go to the polling place; that’s why I vote from home.”
Pate said his office is always looking for more information to help voters with accessibility issues. He added that his office is continues to add more tools, like tablets for poll workers that include information about the federal Americans with Disabilities Act that includes details about building access, accessible voting machines and more.
For a list of state resources for assistance with voting and more information, people can visit sos.iowa.gov/disabilities.
“For some, they may not have perhaps known how attainable it was to be a voter. How accessible it was,” Pate said. “It’s a lot of little things, but they’re not if you add them all up collectively. They’re very meaningful.”
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