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State-funded project helps disabled voters

In an effort to encourage a stronger election-day turnout among voters with disabilities, the Help America Vote Act Project is advocating their voting rights in five Southeastern Ohio counties.  

The goal of the project is to increase turnout of voters with disabilities in the upcoming November election, the spring 2012 primaries and the November 2012 election. The project, funded by a $20,000 grant from the office of the Ohio Secretary of State, spans Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Vinton and Washington counties.

“(Work on the project) has been going on for a while now,” said Marty Zinn, Athens County HAVA project director. “It’s a special program, a new boost to make sure their voices are heard.”

The Athens County HAVA team has nine members, including representatives from the county’s Board of Developmental Disabilities; the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board; and community volunteers. All Athens HAVA team members are representatives from local organizations that advocate improving the voting rights of people with disabilities.

“We want to reach out to bring people with disabilities together across the widest spectrum that we can involve,” Zinn said.

The target population for the project covers both physical and intellectual disabilities and could include voters who have trouble accessing voting polling stations, voters who have auditory or visual impairments and voters who have developmental disabilities.

Voters with disabilities statistically vote 20 percent less than the general population, according to a HAVA news release.

November’s election will serve as a trial period for the Athens HAVA team to prepare for the 2012 elections, Zinn added.

At a team meeting held last Friday, the Athens HAVA team met with representatives from the Athens County Board of Elections and the Athens County League of Women Voters.

Something as small as the proper type of door handle on the entrance to a polling location can make a difference to a voter with disabilities, said Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections.

There are approximately 36,000 people with disabilities who are of voting age within the five-county area. Project teams have set a goal to reach out to at least 28,000 voters — 9,000 of whom reside in Athens.

The Athens County League of Women Voters will be adding an announcement in its upcoming Voter’s Guide, an informational guide to candidates and issues on the upcoming ballot, encouraging voters with disabilities to seek help if they need it.

Voter rights are also a concern for the HAVA team, because many voters with disabilities are either not informed about their rights, or they are misguided, said Zinn.

Voters are allowed to have helpers in the booth to assist with reading the ballot, but helpers are not permitted to sway a voter’s decision-making process.

“As we know, some people make mistakes,” Quivey said.

The latest step for the Athens HAVA team was a training session led by representatives from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office yesterday at Atco, Inc., 21 S. Campbell St.

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