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This is National Disability Voter Registration Week and it is vital to highlight some data showing the importance of registering voters with disabilities. The best data on this topic comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. In November of every even-numbered year, the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) conducts a Voting and Registration Supplement. This supplement asks individuals if they were registered to vote in 2016 and if they voted. It includes follow up questions asking individuals who were not registered to vote the main reason why they were not as well as non-voters why they did not vote.

In the following analysis, I use six questions posed by the Census Bureau in the CPS regarding disability to study voter registration by individuals with disabilities. These questions ask respondents whether certain conditions apply to them, such as “has serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs” or “has difficulty dressing or bathing” (all six items are listed in Table 1). These six questions also make it possible to determine if a person has one disability or several.

Disability Status and Voter Registration

Looking at the data from the 2016 Census, we see that 11.7 percent of respondents answered “yes” to one or more of the disability assessment items, with 52.2 percent reporting having one disability and 47.8 percent reporting having multiple disabilities.

Table 1 shows the percentage of individuals registered to vote categorized by their answers to the questions regarding specific types of disabilities. The data show that 84 percent of individuals who did not report a disability reported being registered to vote, 82.5 percent of individuals with only one disability reported were registered to vote, and 75 percent of individuals with two or more disabilities reported being registered to vote.

Registration Rate by Reported Disability Table 1. Registration Rate by Reported Disability

 Table 1 shows that individuals who reported having only one disability were 1.5 percentage points less likely to be registered to vote compared to those reporting no disability, but individuals with multiple disabilities were 9 percentage points less likely to be registered to vote. The bottom half of the table shows that individuals who reported having certain types of disabilities were much less likely to be registered to vote. Individuals who reported (1) difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, (2) dressing or bathing, and (3) doing errands alone were all at least 10 percentage points less likely to report registering to vote compared to those reporting no disability.

The data in Table 1 are raw percentages and do not take into account differences across respondents that can influence the likelihood of registering to vote, such as age and education. The data also do not take into account differences in policies within states, such as having online voter registration or Election Day/same-day registration.

The data in Figure 1 show the predicted probability that an individual will be registered to vote, when all other things—gender, age, educational attainment, and state policies—are equal. Here, we see that individuals who reported having one disability are approximately 4 percentage points less likely to be registered to vote compared to an individual reporting no disability, and a person reporting multiple disabilities is approximately 11 percentage points less likely to report being registered to vote.

Registration Rates, Controlling for Age, Education, Gender, and Voter Registration Policy Figure 1. Registration Rates, Controlling for Age, Education, Gender, and Voter Registration Policy

 These data show that registration rates vary not just by whether an individual has a disability but whether an individual has multiple disabilities. It is clear that certain individuals have an especially difficult time registering to vote, either because they have difficulty getting out of their home or because they have difficulty concentrating. It is important that effective outreach efforts be identified to ensure that all individuals are able to register to vote and have the ability to be civically engaged.

About the author

Thad Hall

Dr. Thad Hall has over fourteen years of experience conducting public policy research for public sector clients and in academic settings. He has conducted research for the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the states of New Mexico and Utah, as well as local governments, including Los Angeles County, California. Thad worked with FMG to help organizations to evaluate, measure, understand, and influence the way people think and make decisions. He has particular expertise in the area of election administration and policy implementation.

Thad is a published author, with more than 40 research articles and book chapters and seven books - including Evaluating Elections: A Handbook of Methods and Standards and Authorizing Policy -covering topics related to elections and policy change. His research has been supported by grants from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Demos, and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Prior to joining Fors Marsh Group, Dr. Thad Hall was a professor of political science and served as the Director of the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration Programs at University of Utah. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Georgia, a Master of Public Administration degree from Georgia State University, and a B.A. in political science from Oglethorpe University. He is a member of the American Political Science Association.

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