Study finds small but persistent NJ voter disability gap

Rutgers researchers find a gap in turnout between disabled and non-disabled NJ voters.

Asbury Park’s Wali Mohammed injured in a car accident was among the 16 million Americans with disabilities who voted in last year’s presidential election, according to a new Rutgers University study. Mohammed says he physically goes to vote in all elections with hope for those sworn in to office.

“I just don’t believe they know the struggles that a person with all disabilities, I don’t care what kind of disability, I don’t think they know what they go through every day just to get up in this chair, just to move around,” said Mohammed.

Rutgers Professors Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse crunched Census Bureau data and found more than 62 percent of registered voters without disabilities voted in the Nov. 8 election and nearly 56 percent with disabilities voted.

“I think the good news is that a majority of people with disabilities do vote and clearly they are as interested in the issues as people without disabilities. When we ask them questions about do you follow politics, are you interested in the issues, there really is not a difference there,” said Schur.

The professors found the disability gap, the percentage between those with and those without disabilities, persists across the last three presidential elections. Kruse, who was recognized by the Obama administration as a senior economist, calls the gap sobering.

“We were kind of hoping that we would see some closing of that disability gap, but it hasn’t. That means it’s very stubborn and there’s a lot of things going on,” said Kruse.

Accessibility among them a week before the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I think that progress has been much too slow in making polling places accessible,” said Kruse.

“Some people say, well vote by mail and that’ll just solve the problem. And we found a majority of people with disabilities say that they would prefer to vote in person in a polling place. There’s a symbolic and important aspect of showing up and being counted and participating with others in the act of voting,” said Schur.

In this national disability voter registration week, advocates from the Alliance Center for Independence, New Jersey League of Women Voters and several other organizations are staging Rev Up rallies to sign up voters with disabilities.

“With 56 million people with disabilities in our country. We need to have our voice heard, and in order to do that we need to be out, we need to be voting, we need to be getting involved. Not just at home posting on social media, but out in people’s faces,” said Alliance Center for Independence Executive Director Carole Tonks.

Advocates say the results of Nov. 8 were a wake up call and so is the battle over health care and Medicaid.

“Over 770 billion dollars in cuts to Medicaid. There are over 10 million people on Medicaid. Medicaid also provides attending care services that allows people with disabilities to go to school, to work, to live in their community. It’s devastating. It could put people back in institutions. It’s a huge wake up call,” said President and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities, Helena Berger.

Democrat Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has a daughter with disabilities, says this effort last year registered some 600 voters. Sweeney told this crowd that regardless of who you vote for, Democrat, Republican, Independent, make sure that candidate supports this issue.

“Everyone supports us until it comes time to fund us and then they get weak-kneed,” said Sweeney.

Advocates say they hope to measure their voter registration success where it counts, at the ballot box and in policies that better the lives of those with disabilities.

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