Creating a More Inclusive Democracy

Hello there,

My name is Emily Wasek, and I am a rising sophomore, a prospective International Relations major, and as of this past 2014 Virginia gubernatorial election, a proud voter. Since childhood, I always have been fascinated by the electoral process and all of  its intricacies: the polls, the ballots, the popular vote, and the electoral college. Yet through my involvement in social justice, I have been exposed to the harsh reality that not all Americans are granted the ability to partake in this vital constitutional right.

During the 2013 fall semester, I enrolled in the Sharpe Seminar, Disability In Society. In conjunction with this class, I began volunteering in multiple advocacy groups for individuals with disabilities. Through this work, I made many friends, and heard personal anecdotes about a society which treated individuals with disabilities as second-class citizens, excluding them with a lack of physical and emotional accessibility.

While developing this greater awareness, I participated as a first-time voter in the gubernatorial race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. Yet, when I went to cast my ballot, I noticed an abject lack of individuals with disabilities at the polls. Curious about this observation, I conducted seminar-based research about voting habits within the disabled community and made a shocking discovery.

Our country is plagued by a startling phenomenon, known in many circles as the “disability gap.” Under the disability gap, individuals with disabilities are twenty percent less likely to participate in elections than those with similar demographics without disabilities. The root of this problem stems from accessibility issues.

In 2002, following the controversial 2000 election, Congress implemented the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Among its many provisions, HAVA mandated voting reforms intended to make polling stations more accessible to voters with disabilities. Currently, very little research has been conducted regarding HAVA’s success. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that during the summer, my project will further explore this uncharted territory and research how HAVA has affected polling accessibility for voters with disabilities.

My research be will conducted in the form of an online survey. To be included in my sample, individuals must be polling officials from the continental United States who have participated in elections since HAVA’s 2002 enactment. Participants’ contact information will be obtained from the United States Election Assistance Commission’s online database. Participants will be asked a variety of questions concerning their precinct’s demographics and accessibility, prior knowledge of HAVA, and personal opinions concerning HAVA’s success.

Data compiled from this survey will analyzed in a one-way table to obtain a simple summary of responses. In addition, I will conduct correlation analysis through linear regression to evaluate whether there is a relationship between a polling official’s awareness of HAVA and the overall accessibility of their precinct. I predict that there will be a high positive coefficient between a polling official’s awareness of HAVA and the level of accessibility within their precinct.

Electoral reform is a cause which I am very invested in. I believe that the health of a democracy is contingent upon the participation of all its citizens, and that if any demographic is excluded from the electoral process, it results in an inaccurate picture of American opinions. In the future, it is my desire to continue promoting electoral reform through advocacy and activism.  By researching HAVA’s effectiveness, I hope to gain a firm understanding of what qualities lead to productive electoral legislation and what further actions must be taken to create a more inclusive voting process.

I thank you for taking the time to read my post, and I hope that you will continue to follow me on this exciting journey that lies ahead.



  1. Wow, your project sounds very exciting and interesting! This is certainly a territory in which I had very little prior knowledge and I’m excited to hear about your results and conclusions at the end of the summer. I would be curious to know in what ways polling officials might increase the level of accessibility to the polls within their district. Do they provide transportation to the polls or do they bring ballots to the direct residence of those citizens with disabilities? Good luck with your research!!