Laura Szweda, Disability Integration Specialist at Abilities in Motion, tests the accessibility of new voting machines in January 2020.

Through a collaborative grassroots effort, Abilities in Motion has partnered with PA VOTES to encourage and advocate for local voter participation ahead of the November 2020 general election.

The PA VOTES program is a nonpartisan initiative of Nonprofit VOTE and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania to support and evaluate the role of nonprofit service providers doing voter engagement.

Its goal in recruiting nonprofit organizations is to increase the capacity of service providers to do voter engagement work and improve models for nonprofits to register and engage voters in the course of ongoing activities.

The initiative will highlight the value of nonprofits conducting voter participation with their constituents and community through evaluation data and case studies.

According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau on voting and registration in the November 2018 election, about 40% of individuals with independent living difficulty were represented in the electorate compared to almost 50% of those with no disability. Even more disparities in voting exist between participation of different races and income levels, as accessibility extends beyond factors related to disability.

Voting accessibility remains an ongoing challenge each election season. Berks County began using new voting machines with increased accessibility functions in the 2020 primary election. Representatives with disabilities from Abilities in Motion visited the PA Capitol in January to demo the new machines and test accessibility ahead of their debut in the April primary election.

However, even with accessible voting machines, many polling locations are still not physically accessible to people with disabilities. And with pandemic restrictions reducing the number of polling places, it’s even harder, or riskier, for people with disabilities to vote in person.

With the new ability to vote by mail, the potential for greater voter turnout exists, but engaging those voters and educating them about important voting deadlines is key to boosting voter turnout. Abilities in Motion is proud to join the PA VOTES effort to increase voter engagement.

“We want to ensure that people with questions or concerns about voting in this year’s election have access to factual information,” Stephanie Quigley, Abilities in Motion’s Executive Director, emphasized.

“Not only are we assisting people with registrations and making sure their information is up to date, but we are also providing resources and information on voter rights and accessibility to ensure that everyone is able to cast their vote with their own individual ability.”

The last day to register to vote in the general election is October 19, and the last day to register for a mail-in or absentee ballot is October 27. Completed ballots must be received by the county elections office by 8 p.m. November 3. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 3, general election day.