Empowering Youth with Disabilities to Vote

by April Meredith

Although all elections are important, 2020 is undoubtedly a significant election year at the local, state, and federal levels. With this in mind, Empower Tennessee once again enthusiastically partnered up with Spread The Vote (STV) to assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining a photo identification card. Spread The Vote is a nonpartisan organization that helps eligible voters go through all the steps and pay for all the fees necessary to get their ID card. This partnership and these efforts are particularly important in our state because Tennessee law requires voters to provide an acceptable form of photo identification when casting a ballot in person at their polling place. According to STV, 21 million eligible voters in the U.S. do not have a photo ID. Ensuring Tennesseans have a legal state ID card eliminates one of the major barriers to voting in the country.

Starting with Youth

Additionally, on January 17, 2020 Empower Tennessee and Spread The Vote TN lead students in the Metro Nashville Public Schools Community Based Transition Program (CBTP) in an interactive workshop titled “The Importance of Voting.” The purpose of this 2-hour workshop was to educate the CBTP young adults, who are all 18-22 years old and have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, on their rights and responsibilities as potential voters. We gave them an unbiased overview of who our current government leaders are, and which positions are up for election this year. We challenged each student to think about what issues matter to them, and provided an opportunity for the over 80 participants to register to vote. Many responded that day, but by the end of the 2019-20 academic school year, our goal is to have 100% of the eligible CBTP students be in possession of a photo ID card and be registered to vote.

Expanding Our Efforts

Empower Tennessee chose to begin our efforts to increase voter participation with the youth in our state because, as STV shares on their website, 66% of eligible voters who do not go to the polls are under age 50. However, as 2020 moves along, we aim to expand our outreach to include all eligible Mid TN voters of any age and with any disability.  In the meantime, we encourage everyone to check out the Go Vote TN website for Tennessee election and voting information; and, give us a call at 615-292-5803 for assistance with voter registration.