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RJ Matson, Roll Call

It May Be Harder to Reach the Voting Booth

But the Disability Community’s Vote Truly Counts


I was eating breakfast with a friend last week, and the topic of the election came up. “Oh, god, I am so sick of reading about this presidential contest,” she said. “I just avert my eyes from the paper or TV screen whenever I see the two candidates.” Her views are similar to those of a lot of others in the country. Recent polls have shown that enthusiastic support for candidates is at historical lows. It seems like some people have the idea that no matter who wins in November, things will not change.

With so much news coverage about the race for president, it’s easy to forget that voters will have a chance to decide other issues as well. Many of these local races will impact our lives much more directly then the presidential contest.

For seniors and people with disabilities in Santa Barbara County, one of the biggest issues we are faced with is transportation. Sometimes I feel as though I am trapped in the south part of this county, because travel to communities like Santa Ynez and Lompoc is difficult without a car. The lack of transportation affects many people’s ability to get medical care, shop for food, and visit friends and family.

Once a year the Board of Supervisors has a meeting to hear transportation concerns and to decide whether to use taxpayer money to address these needs. This meeting is interesting because of how certain supervisors react to hearing about transit needs. Some seem interested in the topic while others try to dismiss its importance. Last year I heard one of the supervisors ask a member of the public how he could be in favor of more buses when he uses a car. With his comments the supervisor was insinuating that those who advocate for mass transit don’t need the service because they have cars.

Voting is a way to show public officials the consequences of being ignorant of the needs of the community. If we don’t vote, supervisors will feel free to make decisions based on assumptions such as “everyone has a car.” Such assumptions lead to reduced bus service which denies people access to the doctor or the supermarket. You may think, “While I want more public transportation, my vote will not amount to much.”You would be wrong. There are examples in local history where a dozen or so votes have had a major impact on day-to-day life in the county.

In 1994 the California Supreme Court declared Supervisor Bill Wallace the winner of a seat on Board of Supervisors in Santa Barbara County over Willy Chamberlin, by a margin of 12 votes. Two years prior, Chamberlin had won the seat by seven votes, but Wallace paid for two recounts that showed him to have a 12-vote lead. The Supreme Court let the count stand, therefore changing the trajectory of the Board of Supervisors from a body that was in favor of coastal development to being champions of smart growth measures. Small margin, large consequences.

Some individuals in this county have been trying to disenfranchise the votes of others, including seniors and those with disabilities. I have even heard of parents of people with disabilities who have gotten their adult children removed from the voting rolls by claiming that since they are under conservatorship, they can’t vote. However, under California law, only judges can strip those under conservatorship of their right to vote. Also, some skilled nursing facilities and other agencies in this county have told me that their clients don’t need information about voting. These entities fear that even though their clients have only one vote, that vote could lead to significant policy changes that may affect their programs.

If you are thinking of sitting this election out, please think of those in Santa Barbara County who can’t vote either because they lack transportation or are institutionalized. Maybe some people are registered to vote by mail but don’t have anyone they trust to help them fill out their ballot. This year you can be an ally to your neighbor by voting for leaders and policies that will make it easier for everyone to participate in the electoral process in the future.

The Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC) works everyday to create communities where people with disabilities are included in all aspects of civic life. One of the ways we achieve this goal is helping to educate the community on voting. This year our organization is offering a variety of services to help make voting easier for people with disabilities and seniors. At the ILRC we can assist individuals with transportation to the polls as well as providing nonpartisan voter education materials .

For more information on voting please contact us at (805) 963-0595 or email jlesner@ilrc-trico.org.



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