Here’s a story from the “Voter Integrity Project” out of North Carolina.
The image shows a screenshot from MSNBC (Maddow) with an article called, “Raping the ‘Retard’ Vote” and a picture of Kim Kardashian (for no coherent reason). You can read the current article here, the text of which remains unchanged. It’s now called, “Reaping vulnerable voters.”
In an election season which has shown unprecedented media attention to the legal and ethical necessity of making voting accessible to people with disabilities, this article surges the other way. Although it claims to be protecting exploitation, in fact it’s a piece of intense rhetorical dehumanization followed by a call for specific actions designed to intimidate and bully potential disabled voters.
The article asserts that Democratic parents and care-workers “drag” disabled people to the polls, focusing on individuals with varying types of mental, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. The author offers a few examples, consistently describing people with disabilities as objects whose votes are “harvested.” As a solution, it recommends filming people with disabilities preparing to vote, and sharing that footage with VIP for mass release.
First, if you have any friends or relatives who are mentally incompetent and unable to function independently, pay attention to their voting rights. You may look up the condition of their ballot at the State Board of Elections site or by clicking here.
Second, as an added precaution, please consider filming them as you ask them to discuss the election and whether or not they want to vote. Hopefully you won’t need this footage, but if someone harvests their vote, it will be nice to have the footage in court.
Third, the longer-term solution is to share that video footage with people like us at VIP and we will use that information to influence legislators into stopping the civil-rights raping of the weakest in our society.
There are moments when something is offensive and one hesitates to give them attention. Then there are acts of offense so great that they must be named, they must be condemned. For me, this piece – even with the less awful headline – falls into that latter category. It reflect an extreme version of the kinds of ableist stigma that we see constantly. This anti-voting-rights group has deliberately called into question the basic competency of people with varying types of disabilities into question. They advocate – presume incompetence, presume suspicion, videotape, report, and shame disabled people.
EDIT: In my initial post, written in both haste and anger, I did not of course discuss the use of the word raping. In fact, PWDs are especially subject to the threat of sexual violence. To imply that being enabled to vote equals “rape” ramps up the already extreme levels of offense here.
There is, of course, a long history of denying people with ID/DD/MD voting rights, a practice that continues. The website Disability Justice noted in 2012:
Many state Constitutions use language reflecting outdated ways of thinking about citizens with developmental disabilities:
• 7 states deny the right to vote to: “idiots or insane persons”
• others deny the vote to those of “unsound mind, non compos mentis, or those who are not of “quiet and peaceable behavior”
• 16 states bar those adjudged mentally incompetent or incapacitated from voting
• 4 state constitutions bar people “under guardianship” from voting
The media has talked a lot about the ways the Trump campaign has mainstreamed racism, sexism, and antisemitism. I fear ableism is, likewise, intensifying across the right-wing electorate. How else to explain the original headline?
People with disabilities of all sorts may require many different types of trainings and accommodations to vote successfully. But we start by presuming competence. We start by presuming that every citizen who wants to vote should be able to do so, and we build systems to make that possible.
The Voter Integrity folks claim they want to “protect,” but their original title gives the game away. It’s an ableist part of their broader agenda to shrink the electorate and suppress the vote. They have to be stopped.