Building a Community of Empowered Voters with Disabilities
By: April Meredith
Tennessee having one of the lowest rates in the country for registered eligible voters and in election turnout is unfortunate and unacceptable. Motivation may be an issue in certain cases; but for some individuals with disabilities, lack of knowledge and accessibility are oftentimes the reasons. That is why Empower Tennessee is taking proactive measures aimed at minimizing barriers potential Mid TN voters may be experiencing. For example, Tennessee requires a federal or state-issued photo ID in order to vote. However, we learned many of the Community Based Transition Program* (CBTP) students – all of whom are age 18-22 and have disabilities – do not currently possess this type of identification. Therefore, Empower Tennessee has partnered with Spread The Vote** (STV), an organization that assists eligible voters to obtain legal state IDs. Their services include application completion, document acquisition, transportation, and cover fees associated with the process. STV volunteers can also assist voters in travel to/from the polls during the early election or on election day and can provide unbiased support at the polls if requested.
On October 5, 2018, representatives from STV and Empower Tennessee gathered with over 70 CBTP students in our inaugural collaboration. We educated these young adults on the importance of voting and the significance of the upcoming mid-term general election. Immediately following the presentation, we assisted 17 students in registering to vote. Eleven also chose to begin the process of obtaining their legal state ID. All walked away with a greater understanding of their right and responsibilities as citizens and gained knowledge on local resources available to them. Although we absolutely mark this event a success, we are just scratching the surface of our ongoing efforts in Middle Tennessee. We are determined to increase the number of registered voters with disabilities, empower self-advocates to make informed choices, and lead by example in casting ballots. We invite everyone in Davidson and the six surrounding counties to join us in building a strong community of active constituents. Remember, there will always be future elections, so let us know if we can assist you in registering to vote or visit www.GoVoteTN.com for your registration options and important information, including links to your County Election Commission. If you are registered, make sure you study up on all the candidates and get prepared to choose the representatives that best reflect your values. We will see you at the polls!
*Go to https://mnpstransition.com/cbtp/ for a full explanation. Empower Tennessee facilitates peer support group discussions in 7 of the MNPS CBTP classes.