Told Not to Vote With My Service Dog
What happened when I tried voting with my service dog in March 2020.
From a tweet thread originally posted on March 3, 2020
Okay so here's what happened when I tried to vote today as a person with a service dog. I'm sharing so people understand what I went through and know for when/if they deal with something similar.
I'm not voting for the primary today (much to my woe) but we had a local election and I try to vote in all elections. I have voted in this location with my service dog before with zero problems.
As those who know my disability know, it is VERY hard for me to leave my home. Before I got Nola I could only go to doctor appointments and even then it was very bad odds on being able to manage it. Going out to vote is not easy for me even with her, but I am proud to do it.
I was in fact looking forward to it today. I left my house being glad that, even if it wasn't the primary, a local election meant my vote would really make a difference. I hoped I'd even get a sticker so I could take a picture of Nola wearing it on her vest.
I got to the polling place, cast my ballot, got ready to go. At this point a gentleman volunteer approached me and insisted I come over to him instead of leaving. I went, thinking I was going to get a sticker.
Instead, the man told me that in the upcoming primary it was going to be more populated, and that my service dog would not be welcome. He understood it was a service dog but said even so I should leave her home if I wanted to vote.
He finished by saying I shouldn't bring her with me unless I absolutely had to, the implication being clear that he felt I did not. I was so stunned that all I could do was curtly reply that I DID need her, thanks, and left.
I then tried to take Nola on a short walk to calm myself down. I got to the end of the block when weeping turned into a panic attack. I sat down on a nearby rock and had Nola task to help me get out of it. This took about 10 min. I then gave up on any plans but going home.
I knew I needed to make a complaint. I had to pass by the polling place to get to my car so gathered my courage to ask the people canvassing outside who I could speak to about someone trying to keep me from voting in next month's primary.
The two people I spoke to were horrified, but one of them, a police officer, though very polite, attempted to politely pressure me into not making a complaint. He told me there are officers in the polling place and if I had problems next month I could find one of them to help me.
He kept stressing I did not need to make a complaint/an official fuss. I told him I appreciated what he was saying but this does nothing for others who are told by this man they can't use assistive things to vote and who don't know their rights.
I said that for someone who does not have the knowledge or strength to push back, this was voter suppression. At this point one of the candidates asked if I wanted to make an official complaint and told me who to contact to do so.
Note that even for me this was pushing my limits greatly. I started crying again during the conversation and having problems speaking. I was putting myself into a triggering and harmful place to try to advocate for myself and others.
I then abandoned all plans for doing anything else as I had to go home. I made it back to my car and had a small breakdown, then got back to my house. At which point I called the local Registrar of Voters. This was triggering too but I wanted to speak before I forgot details.
The phone call with the Registrar was brisk. I don't know who I spoke to. A woman answered but my local Registrar is a man. She didn't give me her name. I started on a brief explanation ("I voted in District [number] today and was told I can't bring my service dog next month")
She didn't let me finish. She said she appreciated that was unacceptable and they would talk to all of the volunteers at the location today. Which sounds great in theory but at no time did she confirm the location, get my name, or what fully happened.
My phone log tells me the call lasted only a couple of minutes. I was left feeling that she was telling me what she felt she had to more than she was appreciating the problem and looking to solve it.
And here we are. What I thought was going to be a happy and proud afternoon turned into panic attacks and a struggle to advocate for myself. I genuinely don't know what I'm supposed to do from here.
And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that I am a white woman in a middle to upper middle class neighborhood. So what I dealt with is still loaded with privilege and not nearly close to the struggle others have to vote.
I do know it's going to be harder for me to vote next month with the threat of these triggers hanging over me. I'll still do it but again something that I normally do with joy will now be something I dread and fear. So there we are. That's the end of my tale. Thanks for listening.