Karla M. Lortz has a voice so pleasant you’d swear you smell warm apple pies on her window sill as she speaks. However, that voice also belongs to a retired director of the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities and a leading advocate behind legislation, including the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
Four Decades of Unbroken Advocacy
In the 1970s, Lortz began four decades of voting rights advocacy for those with disabilities. She was a vocal organizer supporting Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, guaranteeing certain rights to people with disabilities and the first civil rights protection for these individuals. She also was instrumental in getting passage in Ohio of civil rights legislation benefiting citizens with disabilities (Ohio being among the first states to do so).
Karla M. Lortz
In subsequent years, she became one of “the voices” publicizing difficulties faced by citizens with disabilities who wanted to register to vote. She met continuously with legislators, rights groups and registration boards to sensitize them to how existing procedures effectively disenfranchised so many: unavailable transportation to and from registration sites and polling places, their lack of accessibility, inconvenient and restrictive hours, verification documents impossible to get, difficult-to-understand application instructions, registration staff without a clue about making the process understandable … and often without incentive to do so.
Undeterred, Lortz spent many years speaking on behalf of voting rights and, as director of the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities, got Ohio to do a voter registration study focusing on those with disabilities. This effort actually may have planted the seeds which blossomed into Ohio’s recent strides toward online voter registration!
Championing Online Registration
Get your legislators to broaden the kinds of documents needed to register, like paychecks, bank statements, utility bills and tax statements. People with disabilities often don't have driver’s licenses or state ID cards. Because of that, should they be denied their voice?
“There’s no good reason to stand in the way of online registration,” she said. “Technology is important to people who have disabilities. They use it to access the world and it only makes sense to use it for voter registration. It’ll make access easier and make these people more independent and empowered. I just hope we see actual online voting! With today’s technology, there’s no reason not to.”
“Our legislators also need to be educated about this silly voter fraud concern of theirs when, in fact, that was proven to be virtually nonexistent by Jon Husted’s exhaustive 2012 study. The whole voter fraud thing just makes me nuts! It’s just paranoia of those in power who are afraid to let people vote.”
A Call to Action
Lortz left us with two calls to action:
- “Get in your legislators’ faces.” Make them aware that voter fraud simply is not an issue because modern online systems can instantly detect virtually all attempts to commit fraud.
- Get them to broaden the kinds of documents needed to register … like paychecks, bank statements, utility bills and tax statements. “After all,” she said, “people with disabilities often don't have driver’s licenses or state ID cards! Because of that, should they be denied their voice?”
Let’s salute Karla M. Lortz and her tireless advocacy for voting rights of those with disabilities. Let’s do that by voicing to our legislators in Columbus our strong support for online registration. It can be your way to vindicate her work and crown it with a victory for all Ohioans with disabilities!
For more about bringing online voter registration to Ohio, check out Online for All.
Fred Ross is a volunteer for the ACLU of Ohio.