Forum: Disability shouldn’t be seen as hindrance to voting

by Mariah Hirsch, Staff Reporter

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Simpson students, faculty and staff gathered in Black Box last Thursday to learn about disability voting rights in America.

The objective of the event was to ensure all voters with disabilities have equal opportunities to register to vote, participate in events and successfully cast ballots.

Five advocates of voting rights for individuals with disabilities spoke as a panel at the event, presented by the Office of Student Accessibility, the John C. Culver Public Policy Center and Simpson Votes, with support from Disability Rights Iowa.

Seth Andersen, director of John C. Culver Public Policy Center, spoke on behalf of the center, educating members of the campus community.

“On campus, we are working to make it easy and convenient for everyone to vote,” Andersen said.

The Fifteenth and Nineteenth amendments prohibit the government from denying the right to vote to any U.S. citizen due to race, color or sex. However, the Constitution gives states the power to set qualifications for voting.

Because of the Federal Voting Rights Act, states can enact laws to deny the right to vote to people because of criminal conviction or mental incapacity.

Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders in voting accessibility.

Voting at the polls can present a set of challenges to people with disabilities. It is the intent of federal law to ensure that voters with disabilities are fully able to exercise their voting rights at the polls, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said.

“This voting process belongs to you. Everyone’s rights are protected and should be unquestioned,” said panelist Pete McRoberts, of the Legislative Council for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. “No matter who you vote for, this process belongs to you. No matter who you are, your voice matters.”

On Simpson’s campus, Student Accessibility Coordinator Pat Kelley focuses on leveling the playing field so all students can realize their dreams and share their gifts with the world.

“Often times people think of our office as a place for students who are less than when, really, they are just as bright,” Kelley said. “They simply need accommodations to access the same learning as other students. Live in a world where differences are celebrated.”

One of Kelley’s students, Shelby Newman, also discussed her views on disability voting rights at the event. When she registered to vote in September, Simpson Campus Security picked her up so she could register to vote at the auditor’s office in town.

“The word disability has a negative connotation to it. It’s true, I have a disability, but I don’t like the label it brings,” Newman said. “It’s challenging. It’s hard, but there need to be more voices.”

To learn more about disability voting rights in Iowa, visit