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Dover Twp. man works to get out the autistic vote

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd
  • The grassroots campaign aims to get adults with autism out to vote
  • Even if that means voting by absentee ballot

Dave Kot has autism and is a voter.

Autistic Vote Advocate Dave Kot speaks about encouraging voters with autism, as well as other disabilities, to vote by absentee ballot when necessary in order to have their voices heard during an interview at the York Dispatch in West Manchester Township, Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Dover Township man traditionally heads to his polling place each Election Day to cast his ballot, but for some adults with autism, that seemingly simple task can be too much to handle.

That's why Kot, 41, has started a grass-roots initiative to get out the autistic vote, even if that means voting by absentee ballot.

"When needs be, use an absentee ballot to compensate for a disability so you can be seen, recognized and heard even if you yourself may be not verbal. Your voice is your vote in this election, and we need to exercise that," he said.

It's not known exactly how many people living in the United States have autism, but Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism estimated that 1.5 million people, including children, have an autism spectrum disorder.

Grass roots: But before anyone can cast a ballot, he or she must first be registered to vote. That's part of Kot's three-pronged initiative that also includes encouraging people on the autism spectrum to find their polling places and obtain an absentee ballot if they can't get to their polling place.

An illness or a physical disability are conditions that would allow someone to vote by absentee ballot, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Kot said he's solicited the help of all 50 state senators, who will have information on hand about obtaining absentee ballots and staff available to assist in filling out the applications needed to obtain them.

"We understand his request to be that he would like senators' offices to have information available and be willing to assist constituents who have autism.  Of course, our office would be more than willing to do so," said Erin Marsicano, legislative director for Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, who added Wagner is scheduled to meet with Kot next month.

Applications: Sen. Pat Vance, R-York and Cumberland counties, also plans to meet with Kot, and her office has absentee ballot applications available, said Tracy Polovick, a spokeswoman for her office.

Once an application is filled out, it then goes to the York County elections and voter registration office, which issues and processes absentee ballots.

"This office is the only office that can handle the ballots," said Nikki Suchanic, head of the county elections office.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot ahead of the April 26 Pennsylvania Primary is April 19.

Support: Kot is keeping his efforts politically neutral in order to reach as many people as possible.

"I just want more opportunities for people to have access to the ballot box," he said during an interview at The York Dispatch office.

Pedro Cortés, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of State, who was in York to encourage voter registration, dropped by the office to meet Kot and said he's impressed.

"Every person in Pennsylvania has a voice and is important," Cortés said. "We want to break down these barriers."

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, have also lent their support, Kott said.

To help spread awareness about his efforts, Kot has taken to social media and created the handle @weAut2vote on Twitter and uses the #weAut2vote hashtag.

"I want to create a culture where we stop campaigning and take more personal responsibility ourselves, that we can effect good social change ourselves," Kot said. "When everyone makes well-informed votes, we all win."

The deadline to register to vote in the primary is 5 p.m. Monday.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.