Nov 4 7:00 AM

Poor voters 'feel slighted' by politicians, electoral process

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Connalita Stewart, 55, used to earn a comfortable living as a substance-abuse and HIV counselor. But in 2009, she was diagnosed with cancer. In the course of treatment, she experienced severe nerve damage and lost the ability to work. Since February 2011, she has been living on about $900 per month in disability benefits.

Going from a middle-class to a low-income lifestyle has also affected her involvement in the political process. Stewart, who has voted in every election since she was 18, said that since moving into subsidized housing three years ago, she has not noticed any outreach to citizens in her neighborhood through volunteers or political candidates.

“I wanna vote,” she said, “[But] I don’t think they [politicians] are concerned with us. [...] I don’t see anyone campaigning [here] [...] and I feel slighted.” 

Other low-income people interviewed for a story about voting rights in Indiana seemed to share Stewart’s concerns. In interviews with more than two dozen individuals, many said that the lack of outreach to their communities could discourage them from voting.  Politicians, they said, do not care about their needs.

While voting-rights advocates argue that ID laws and other voting rules can keep working-class voters from the polls, they also point out that many of these low-income voters already feel left out of the democratic process.

This could help explain their low turnout rates. Low-income voters are much less likely to vote than their wealthier counterparts. According to the Census, only 46 percent of voters with an annual household income of $20,000 to 29,999 voted in the last presidential election, compared to nearly 77 percent of those earning more than $150,000 per year.

To many low-income voters, “it feels like life is a daily struggle,” said Bonnie Bazata, executive director of St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative, an organization that conducts financial workshops with low-income communities in South Bend. Bazata added that her clients tell her, “Politicians don’t speak to them as voters.”

Stewart says that many of the issues she faces, such as a lack of accessible public transportation and affordable housing, are not being addressed. But despite her gripes, she still plans to vote.

“I’m not excited at all,” she said. But, “I’m just going to go.”

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