Disabilities Voter Forum Draws a Big Crowd

Capital News Service

SALISBURY – Organizers from the Maryland Disability Law Center expected 50, or maybe 100, people would attend their first voter forum of the year at Dove Pointe on Thursday.

Almost 200 people showed up. They hope their next three forums are as successful.

If we can have a turnout like this, we?re going to be feeling the power of the disability vote, said Virginia Knowlton, executive director for the Maryland Disability Law Center.

People with disabilities and those interested in related issues were able to register to vote, practice using voting machines and hear about the platforms of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

One voter, Sandra Haynes, from Federalsburg, said the forum was informative and helped her decide to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

“”It made up my mind [about] who I was going to vote for,”” she said.

During the forum, members of the audience were able to ask surrogates Marcie Roth, for Obama, and Andrew Langer, for Sen. John McCain, questions about their candidates policies while Knowlton served as moderator.

The Maryland Disability Law Center, which advocates for people with disabilities, is holding four forums in the weeks before the election to help answer questions that typically come up during voter registration drives.

Knowlton began by asking questions that were sent to the surrogates prior to the forum, including one about transportation access and another about improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

McCain was a sponsor of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination and promotes equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Langer said McCain can relate to having physical limitations after being a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

Langer said McCain wants to reduce red tape for people with disabilities to get the services they need and wants to ensure access to jobs.

Roth talked about Obama being a former civil rights attorney whose father-in-law had multiple sclerosis.

She said Obama has plans for providing Americans access to transportation. He also supported the Community Choice Act so that people can live independently in their communities.

Langer said McCain did not support the act because he thought it would be the wrong bill to “”get the job done.””

Even though disability issues were the main topic of discussion, audience members asked about President Bush, the war in Iraq, taxes, homelessness and health care.

After the forum, members of the audience were reminded of their voter rights and encouraged to register to vote and practice using voting machines.

Knowlton said that about two dozen people registered at the forum and that her organization helped register approximately 75 people with disabilities along Maryland’s Eastern Shore in July.

I’m so happy to know that our people are motivated to go to the polls, Knowlton said. I can say that everything went just as well as I could have hoped.

The next voter forum will be held in Frederick at the C. Burr Artz Public Library at 1:30 p.m. Monday, September 22.