The Texas legislation, which Democrats blocked but Republicans plan to revive in a special session, is one of a series of Republican voting bills that would disproportionately affect people with disabilities. The Wisconsin Senate approved three last week with more to come, though unlike in Texas, the governor there is a Democrat and is expected to veto them. Georgia and Florida have enacted similar measures.
For years, advocates have worked to mobilize Americans with disabilities — more than 38 million of whom are eligible to vote, according to researchers at Rutgers University — into a voting bloc powerful enough to demand that politicians address their needs. Now, after an election in which mail-in voting helped them turn out in large numbers, the restrictive proposals are simultaneously threatening their rights and testing their nascent political influence.
“It’s only been the last few years that there have been studies done showing that if candidates would appeal to issues that the disability community cares about, there is such a thing as the disability vote,” said Bob Kafka, an organizer with Rev Up Texas, which aims to increase turnout among disabled Texans. “That’s why you’re seeing it playing out in Georgia and here and other places where the disability community is part of the larger fight against voter suppression.”
The fight also underscores the degree to which disability rights, once championed both by Democrats like former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Republicans like former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, have become one more partisan football, even though there are millions of disabled voters in both parties.
The most recent version of the Texas bill would ban drive-through voting, further limit absentee voting in a state that already has strict eligibility rules, and let poll watchers record video of voters as purported evidence of wrongdoing. Disability rights advocates worry that partisan poll watchers will misinterpret legal accommodations — like a worker helping a disabled voter complete a ballot, or a blind voter using a screen reader — as fraud.