Lift Up Their Voices: Helping Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Vote in 2020

October 26, 2020

Lift Up Their Voices: Helping Individuals with Developmental Disabilities Vote in 2020

Election Day is fast approaching (Tuesday, November 3!) and it’s going to be different in many ways due to COVID. And while some may feel that COVID is negatively impacting the election, it’s also had a positive outcome, as it’s created a unique opportunity for many individuals with developmental disabilities to become more involved and engaged in the voting process. How? For one thing, we seem to have a lot more time on our hands. This has created space for families and caregivers to share more about voting, the candidates, and the issues at hand with individuals with developmental disabilities. The pandemic has also directly impacted the individuals we serve, so that, more than ever, they may feel keenly how political decisions such as those made around COVID may affect their daily lives.

SCARC’s Focus on Voting

Here at SCARC, we have delved deeply into the election and its issues with the individuals that attend our daily virtual habilitation program. Some who have never voted before are very excited to learn that they have the power to make such a decision. The individuals we serve take their right to vote very seriously and have spent quite a bit of time discussing and learning about each candidate.

How Mail-In Ballots Level the Field for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

The traditional voting process itself can be intimidating for anyone who is voting for the first time. For those with developmental disabilities, it can be extremely overwhelming. The noise, the number of people, the enclosed booth, the computer used to accept votes—these can all make a person with developmental disabilities feel upset and even fearful. What’s more, many have mobility issues or cognitive challenges that make quickly entering, voting, and exiting practically impossible.

But this year, mail-in ballots have been automatically sent to everyone in New Jersey who is registered to vote, making it much easier and less complicated for individuals with developmental disabilities to make their voices heard and their votes counted! Parents and caregivers, along with the individuals they care for, can work through the ballot together and take all the time they need. (It’s perfectly legal for a caregiver to provide assistance in completing the ballot on behalf of an individual with disabilities. Caregivers assisting with ballot completion are asked to add their name and signature to the ballot indicating that they’ve provided this assistance.) The mail-in voting process is often much less stressful for individuals with developmental disabilities than in-person voting.

Exercising the Right to Vote

If the individual you care for is registered to vote, but you haven’t yet explored the issues or discussed the candidates with him, there is still plenty of time to do so! You should know that any individual aged 18 or over has the right to cast a vote, even if he has a legal guardian (unless a judge has specifically revoked individual’s right to vote). Here are a few tips on helping the individual you care for prepare to exercise their right to vote:

  1. Choose Wisely: It’s not necessary for the individual you care for to have a comprehensive understanding of every issue that’s up for debate. Attempting to do so could be overwhelming and frustrating for anyone! Instead, focus on issues that you think will or are affecting her or that she may already have opinions about. Perhaps this includes the following:
    • the handling of the pandemic
    • women’s health
    • civil rights and equality
    • programs and services provided for individuals with disabilities
    • Medicare/Medicaid, insurance, and healthcare issues
    • employment
  2. Explore: Together you and the individual you care for can visit websites like, where you can learn where the candidates stand on various issues. You can also encourage him to do his research if possible, but point him in the right direction. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, so here are some other sites to try:
  3. Just the Facts: While it may be tempting to voice your own opinions on various topics and on the candidates themselves, do your best to stay neutral and focus on providing facts and information. Watch the debates together (you can find them online) and ask the individual you care for what they think about the candidates and the issues that are being discussed. If the individual you care for expresses strong opinions, feel free to validate those opinions to make them feel heard, but also try to play devil’s advocate from time to time to spark thought-provoking conversations.
  4. Empower: Once the individual you care for has decided who she wants to vote for, don’t attempt to sway her decision based on your own political ideals. It’s important that she feels empowered to make this decision independently and of her own free will. Even if you need to fill out the ballot completely, let her decisions govern which of those ovals are filled in!
  5. Celebrate: Once that ballot has been dropped off, help the individual you care for share the exciting news! Together you can make signs for your home or car windows that declare “I voted!” and encourage him to spread the word on social media if he participates on those platforms. Just remind him not to share who he voted for unless he’s are ready to respond to criticism and potentially negative reactions. (This could lead to a great educational discussion on social media and the debates that often take place there as well!).

Every Vote Counts

We hope we’ve helped you and the individual you care for feel fully prepared to rock the vote this year! If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to us and we will do our best to assist you.