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Friendship Circle of Michigan chairperson endorses the bipartisan VoteSafe Michigan campaign because he strongly believes in the basic principles of allowing all of us to vote safely and securely.

Regardless of what type of role you play in the community, we all have an opportunity to play the most important role of all — voter — in the coming weeks. This includes our neighbors and family members with disabilities.

Especially in this pandemic, everyone who wants to vote in Michigan has the constitutional right to accessible voting through secure mail-in ballots and safe in-person voting. It is expected that voting, by absentee ballot and in-person voting, will be the highest ever in Michigan for the Nov. 3 national election.

In my role as chairperson of the Friendship Circle of Michigan, I see the challenges often faced by people with disabilities and support efforts to provide accessible voting to them as a basic democratic right.

Prior to the pandemic, voting for many people with physical or developmental disabilities was often difficult or not possible. This includes people with mobility issues, hearing and visual impairments and those with autism. This year with the pandemic, the barriers are even greater. That is why safe options are so important for our neighbors with disabilities.

In my role as an attorney, I have studied how the democratic process is most effective when everyone is able to participate. In 1973, the federal Rehabilitation Act provided that is unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of their disability. This was expanded in 1990 under the Americans with Disabilities Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications.

Then in 1993, the national Voter Registration Act provided for more accessible voting for people with disabilities. As we learned from the experience with these laws, the codification of these basic civil rights did not come easy, but now provide the basic framework for safe and accessible voting for people with disabilities.

In Michigan, new for 2020, all voters, even those without an excuse, now have the option of using an accessible absentee ballot. In addition to mailing them in, they can be dropped off at clerk’s offices and drop boxes.

For voting in person, Michigan law also mandates that each municipality provide an accessible polling location and accessible voting machine. The law also requires that each polling place have a voter assist terminal available. That is all in addition to the Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing that cities and townships plan to provide to keep in-person voting as safe as possible.

The Friendship Circle is now in its 25th year of operation. I have seen children with all different abilities and skills grow into adulthood with many challenges. Providing accessible voting to them now that they are of voting age is one right that is not taken for granted.

In my role as a father, I look forward to seeing my two sons, now old enough to vote, participate in the process, safely and conveniently for them, despite their special needs.

Because of all of my roles, I have endorsed the bipartisan VoteSafe Michigan campaign because I strongly believe in the basic principles of allowing all of us to vote safely and securely. I hope you and your family and friends will join me in voting safety on or before Nov. 3.

Ronald Hodess is chair of the Friendship Circle of Michigan and a principal at the law firm Miller Canfield.

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