Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Political Activism and Voter Participation by Persons with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities

Project VOTE!: Showing People the Importance of Voting


Nancy Ward is Self-Advocacy Specialist with Project VOTE!

This article was written with the assistance of Jimmie Harris of Project VOTE! Project VOTE! is funded by the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Voting is not only our right, but also our responsibility as citizens of the United States of America. I have travelled to China, Japan, and England and become more aware of our democracy and how important it is to vote. When I first started to learn about voting, I didn’t understand how to get the information to be an informed voter and I would let people influence my decisions. Now, I use the League of Women Voters to help me make my own decisions. I changed my political party after understanding what each party stands for. Now, when I cast my ballot, I’m an informed voter and I feel good about myself and my decisions.

I am a person with a disability and my name is Nancy Ward. After my friends and I learned how to vote, and we saw all the barriers that people face in voting, we saw a great need for vote training. Now, we are all trainers for the national Project VOTE! team. Project VOTE! is a partnership of five groups: The National Center for Self-Determination and 21st Century Leadership; Moore Advocacy Consulting; Oklahoma People First; the RTC on Aging with Developmental Disabilities at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered. Project VOTE! has a training that shows people with disabilities, elections officials, and people from the community how to work as a team to overcome the barriers that people face in voting. We also have fact sheets on voting for people with disabilities and elections officials, and a policy statement calling for changes in guardianship and elections laws so that people who have guardians can vote.

The purpose of the Project VOTE! training is to help people learn about:

  • Voting issues.
  • How to register to vote.
  • How to cast a ballot/go to the polls and vote.
  • Where to vote.
  • Things that might get in their way when they go out to vote and solutions to these barriers.
  • How to build community connections across local/state agencies, self-advocates, family members, elected officials, and legislators to increase voting participation of people with disabilities.

The Project VOTE! curriculum has 10 chapters of everything a person needs to know about the voting process. It is designed to be interactive and fun. One chapter shows how to vote by casting a ballot. For example, it says that casting a ballot means voting on issues and for candidates. How you cast your ballot depends upon your voting place. You might mark your ballot with a pen, punch the ballot, or use a machine. After casting your ballot, then you might put the ballot in a machine or ballot box. Also, the training includes details about where to register and where to vote.

The training speaks about the League of Women Voters, which is a non-partisan organization, meaning they can’t tell you which party to vote for. Self-advocacy organizations invite the League of Women Voters to come and talk to the members about the issues and candidates. They teach the members how to complete a sample ballot and to take it with them to their polling place to help them vote. The training also talks about reading the newspaper and watching debates on TV as good ways to learn more about issues and candidates. Also, it suggests you can get to know a candidate by working for their campaign or having them come to your self-advocacy meeting and share their ideas about disability issues.

The training identifies many barriers to voting for persons with disabilities. Guardianship is a major barrier. The training addresses this issue and one temporary solution – asking for a “provisional ballot.”

Because there are things that get in the way of voting for people with disabilities, you need to get the word out that voting is important for ALL of us. Some ways to get the word out and to participate are these:

  • Educate yourself and others about voting rights, issues, and ways to get out and vote.
  • Encourage disability and non-disability groups in your community to work together to increase voter turnout for all citizens.
  • Encourage full inclusion for all people in the registration and voting process.
  • Be an advocate for yourself and others about voting rights, issues, and ways to get out and vote.
  • Remember that you don’t have to be able to read, write, or know how to use the voting machines to cast a ballot.
  • If you want support at the voting polls, ask someone you trust to help you.

The Project VOTE! team has reaped many rewards. When we see the participants become excited about learning how to vote and grasping the empowerment, it’s worth all of our hard work.