Media Strategist/Senior Writer
Kenya Myers is like the Energizer Bunny – she just keeps going, and going, and going. As Disability Rights North Carolina’s (DRNC’s) Voting Rights Advocate, Myers is working at top speed these days to secure the voting rights of North Carolinians with disabilities during the upcoming Primary Election cycle and in the November General Election.
Myers is determined and passionate. “Voting is a fundamental right for every American, and it shouldn’t be difficult to vote,” she said. “But for so many people, and especially people with disabilities, it is burdensome and sometimes impossible to vote. We are working hard to change that picture in North Carolina.”
People with disabilities have enormous voting power: one in four people eligible to vote has a disability, but disabled people don’t vote at the same rate as people without disabilities, because of barriers to voting. If disabled voters voted at the same rate as the general population, there would be more than 2.3 million more voters.
Access the Vote NC
That’s why Myers helped create DRNC’s nonpartisan #AccessTheVoteNC project that aims to make voting accessible and available to people with disabilities. Working with other DRNC staff, individual volunteers, and partner agencies like the NC NAACP, NC Black Alliance, Meals on Wheels, Democracy NC, and the ACLU of NC, Myers is overseeing the following efforts:
- Distributing voting information on voting rights and how to register to vote through several Meals on Wheels programs
- Making accessible voter guides, including audio versions, available in English and in Spanish for eight cities and counties
- Organizing curbside voting monitoring in 20 counties to ensure curbside voting is running efficiently and effectively
- Testing the physical accessibility of voting in the same 20 counties
- Organizing accessible voting machine monitoring with partners, such as You Can Vote, throughout the state (you can help – see info in box!)
- Ensuring complaints about accessibility during the voting process are triaged quickly and that appropriate agencies are notified to address the issues within the same day
- Ensuring that accurate, reliable information about voting is provided
Want to join us in making sure precinct voting machines are accessible? Fill out this form when you vote in person. It will notify DRNC in real time of any issues we need to address. It’s quick and easy!
Legal advocacy to improve access to voting for people with disabilities
DRNC’s #AccessTheVoteNC isn’t the only voting rights work that DRNC staff are focused on. Following a lawsuit DRNC legal staff filed in coalition with Disability Rights Advocates, the NC Council of the Blind, the Governor Morehead School Alumni Association Inc., and several NC voters with disabilities, last June, a federal judge ordered the NC Board of Elections to take immediate steps to ensure that blind voters would have equal access to the 2021 municipal elections and all subsequent elections. As a result, blind voters in NC can now vote independently by using the same accessible online voting system that is offered to military and voters overseas.
Additionally, DRNC filed a lawsuit in September alleging that NC law illegally limits voting assistance by restricting who can help a voter with a disability request an absentee ballot, among other things. The restrictions in the law affect disabled voters across the state, including thousands who live in congregate setting such as hospitals, nursing facilities, and assisted living facilities. That case is pending.
Barriers to voting
People who live in these institutional settings are very limited in who can help them vote. A close relative can help, but many people residing in institutions don’t have family nearby. In that situation, residents can ask the facility to schedule a multi-partisan assistance team (MAT) visit, or they can call the county board of elections to make that request.
If that weren’t enough of a voting barrier for people in facilities, each county is supposed to have a MAT trained to help people in facilities vote, but in reality, some counties don’t have anyone available to visit facilities. Because of the restrictions on who can help disabled voters, many voters in facilities never get to cast their vote.
If you request a MAT visit and no one is available to visit your facility, call DRNC’s voter hotline at 1-888-WEVOTE2.
2022 Primary Election
Early voting begins on April 28, and Myers is hoping people will take advantage of early voting as they are able, because that gives people time to address any issues at the polls that might arise. Importantly, people can also register to vote during the early voting period, which goes through 3pm on Sat., May 14.
People can also vote by absentee ballot; those ballots must be returned to the county board of elections by 5pm on Election Day (May 17). However, they can be mailed and will count, as long as they are post-marked on or before Election Day, and received by the following Friday. And, of course, people can vote on Election Day.
Myers is energized by the power disabled voters have while also realistic about the barriers they face. Unphased by the amount of work ahead, she is determined to keep going until all people with disabilities can fully exercise their right to vote in NC.