The day after the elections, Liz Weintraub, Senior Advocacy Specialist at AUCD and host of Tuesdays with Liz, had a conversation via video chat with a pair of siblings who were first-time voters in a Presidential Election. Andy Meredith, 20 years-old, is a young man with Down syndrome and joined us from his home in Georgia. He previously voted in the 2018 mid-term elections, but was excited to be a first-time Presidential voter. His sister, Kate Meredith, 18 years-old, joined from Utah, where she is a freshman at Brigham Young University. We share their conversation as a glimpse into the experiences of first-time voters with and without disabilities, and how disability shaped their voting process.
Liz: The first question is what did you do to prepare to vote this election? For example, register to vote, research candidates, watch the news, etc. And we’ll start with Andy.
Andy: I read Apple News on my iPad and registered to vote.
Kate: It was my first election, not just first Presidential, but first time voting ever. So, I had to register, and then I went on sites that were nonbiased sites to research all the candidates. And I wasn’t old enough to vote in the Primaries unfortunately, but I was old enough to vote in the general election. But I did keep up with the news and with current events, and Instagram was also a big source which I know sounds kind of silly, but it’s also a big form of where people in my generation get their information.
Liz: The second question is what issues were important to you when deciding how to vote? Such as healthcare, the economy, education, transportation.
Kate: I think, for me, the most important issues are if healthcare is going to be comprehensive and supported because that’s really important, especially during this time where the health of so many people is jeopardized. And I think education is a big one, too, being in college. I think any candidate I vote for has to be a big proponent of advancing education. I also think, for social issues, I think racial and equality issues are very important. We should vote based on those issues and issues that we care about.
Liz: And Andy, what issues are important to you? Your mom told me that you were really angry at one of the candidates about taking away an app. Can you share that?
Andy: I cared about Down syndrome. I care about TikTok because I like TikTok and because I do TikTok. I like to go on my internet on TikTok and Instagram.
Kate: I think sometimes when people would hear that story they would say it’s silly, but I think it’s really important to remember that, you know, if some candidate was like ‘We’re taking away Facebook’, people would be really mad. And I think also for Andy, and for other adults with disabilities, the internet is really important, especially right now, when there’s not as much to do. It’s a really important outlet for him.
Andy: And Medicaid lets me have healthcare. It’s my healthcare because I have Down syndrome. My sister Kate doesn’t have Medicaid, but I do.
Kate: And a while back before we had group health insurance, Andy wasn’t able to be covered by private insurance because he has a preexisting condition. We were so lucky growing up that he didn’t have any heart problems, which is common to people with Down syndrome.
Liz: Kate, this is a question for you: As a sibling to a brother with a disability, how did you consider issues affecting people with disabilities when deciding how to vote?
Kate: Well I think that’s a really big part of who and what I vote for because for some people, the results of the election are life and death, and some of those people can be people with disabilities, for whom the policies of the government directly influence whether they get support or not. It affects their quality of life and even their health, sometimes. I think another thing that having a brother with Down syndrome has influenced is that growing up I think I had a lot more empathy than maybe other people might have had. So I also look at other marginalized groups and I try to make sure that I’m also looking at issues that will benefit and improve their situations, as well.
Liz: Andy, this is a question for you: As a person with a disability, how did you consider issues affecting people with disabilities when deciding how to vote?
Andy: Yeah, when I am taking care of my friend Mitch or myself because we are people with disabilities. I worry about making sure my friends don’t feel bad when I vote.
Liz: Did you find any challenges when voting or need any support from a family member? For example, thinking about guardianship, transportation to the polls, filling out the ballot, etc.
Andy: My parents gave me a ride and my dad helped me with my ballot. My dad was helping me to read the ballot and taught me how to use the pad like the iPad to vote. He said to put my card in the pad like a debit card, and then I made my choice of who to vote for. And I did it myself. I have done things by myself since I was 18, and I am an adult. My dad did not tell me how to vote. And I would not let my dad tell me how to vote.
Kate: For my first time ever voting I had to use an absentee ballot. So I registered, then had to order my ballot online. But it actually took weeks for the ballot to get to me, and I had to call them to ask what happened, and so they sent another one. While filling it out, I had to ask my mom how to do it because it was a little confusing and then I had to send it in the mail. I was a little worried it wouldn’t get there in time. It was kind of a scary experience because if you don’t get everything right, they might not count it. And I definitely want my vote to count. First time voting was a little bit scary, but I figured it out.
Liz: What advice do you have for other first time voters who are people with disabilities or family members of people with disabilities?
Andy: I think that they should watch the news on your phone or your iPad, and get a ride to vote.
Kate: For me, I think the whole process probably would have been easier if I had done things sooner than I had. And I also think it’s important to assess your own beliefs and try to match with whoever is running instead of voting solely along party lines. I also think that for people who have disabilities it’s important to let them form their own opinions because nobody tells Andy who to vote for, and I hope that’s the case for all people with disabilities of voting age. I hope everyone is allowed to form their own opinions and are given the information to form their own opinions.
Liz: Last question: Andy, when you think about why you vote, what do you want the future of our country to look like?
Andy: I like all people to be like my family and my siblings, too.