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Giving voice to voters

The two major party candidates are in an exciting neck-and-neck race for the White House and the election is only weeks away. To help motivate and teach young adults with disabilities about voting and about other ways to participate in the political process, the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) in the U's College of Education and Human Development launched the My Voice, My Vote project.

Historically, voter participation has been lower among people with disabilities than in the general population. Among the contributing factors is a lack of awareness about voter accommodations and how to use them. Additionally, in some states some individuals with disabilities are not allowed to vote under state law. My Voice, My Vote, a collaborative project among ICI, the Humphrey Institute's Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Partnership Resources Inc., and the Minneapolis Public Schools, with support from the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, seeks to help turn that around.

The project is aimed primarily at Minnesota's young adults with disabilities, educators in high school and transition programs, and community service providers and advocates, and it offers a number of resources they can use to increase civic engagement and voting among young adults with disabilities.

"In 2008, Minnesota could set a record for voter participation," says project director Chris Bremer. "The Secretary of State's office has set a goal of '80 in 08'--80 percent turnout for this year's election. Minnesota is already known for its high rate of voting and more participation by people with disabilities could put us over the top."

In July, the project held a one-day workshop where young adults with disabilities learned what it means to be a citizen and how to exercise one's right to vote. Jerry Smith of the ICI's RTC Media filmed the workshop for a video that will include segments on how to use regular and adapted voting equipment and on voting methods available in Minnesota. The video is available on the My Voice, My Vote Web site.

"In doing the workshop, we saw how excited young adults with disabilities are about getting involved as citizens and voting," says Bremer. "We hope this project contributes to increased participation in November and in future elections."

The Charles and Mabel Williams Fund of the Minneapolis Foundation funded the project with a $4,075 grant.