Come Tuesday, Christina Galindo-Walsh will be hunkered down at a command center in Arlington, intent on ensuring that disabled voters get to the polls.
Advocacy groups have pushed for laws allowing greater access to the voting booth. They have traveled to rehabilitation centers and sheltered workshops to register voters. And they have lined up vans and volunteers in battleground states to transport the disabled Nov. 2.
Now, with the air thick with legal challenges, advocates are pooling their legal resources to ensure that those with mental and physical limitations are not blocked from voting.
Some groups "are targeting vulnerable communities," said Galindo-Walsh, a lawyer who works for the National Association of Protection Advocacy Systems, a network of state agencies overseeing the rights of the disabled. "Individuals with disabilities are especially vulnerable to challenges."
In Ohio, for instance, local Republican Party activists pledged last week to challenge mentally disabled voters not accompanied by a legal guardian.
"They are not going to block our vote," said Becky Ogle, a Democratic Party coordinator, as she left Bethesda for Ohio last week.
The disabled have long had low voter turnouts. But in what is expected to be an extraordinarily tight election, advocates are focused on getting as many of the nation's estimated 40 million voting-age disabled people to the polls as they can.
Since the 2000 election, advocacy groups have registered thousands of new voters. Now they are sending mailings, mobilizing phone banks and organizing van pools. Democratic and Republican leaders are targeting this huge subset of voters, which includes people with speech and hearing impairments, addictions, mental illness, blindness and quadriplegia.
As a bloc, the disabled have traditionally voted Democratic. An October Reuters/Zogby International poll found that likely disabled voters favored Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) over President Bush, 58 percent to 34 percent -- a split reminiscent of their margin of support for Democrat Al Gore in his 2000 race against Bush.
But Republicans are fighting to win over the disabled, as well. They have recruited more than 4,000 disabled "team leaders" across the country to go door-to-door, make phone calls and get voters to the polls, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said.
"We want to reach out to all voters," Iverson said, "including voters who haven't voted Republican in the past."
Democratic campaign coordinators in battleground states are equipped with telephone lists of thousands of rehabilitation centers they are targeting, said Ogle, who is the disability outreach coordinator for the Democratic National Committee.
"The Democratic Party -- as well as the Kerry-Edwards campaign -- is aggressively courting the disabled community," said Ogle, who has spina bifida.
Driving a handicapped-accessible van, Ogle was bound for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to combat the possible legal challenge aimed at mentally disabled voters. The county's GOP chairman, Jim Trakas, initially said his observers would challenge anyone who was assisted by someone other than a legal guardian.
The plan provoked a protest from disabled advocates, who have said state law protects voters from such challenges. Yesterday, Trakas said his observers would watch for "anything that doesn't look kosher."
Beyond sharing national concerns about war, peace and security, disabled voters have a serious stake in domestic policies. The disabled are three times as likely to live in poverty and about twice as likely to be unemployed as other Americans. Their lives are often intensely bound to such federal programs as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
Increasingly, disabled advocates have become more outspoken about their place in society.
"People with disabilities ought to be tired of living in a parallel society," said Dale Reid, an lawyer from the Maryland Disability Law Center, as he rallied voters from his wheelchair at a recent conference. "This is a whole new civil rights movement. Do you want to be part of the community or do you want to just sit?"
In courting disabled voters, President Bush points to his New Freedom Initiative, which would remove barriers to public transportation and community services and aid the transition from nursing homes to the community.
But the Bush administration's efforts to change how money is distributed for Medicaid, has come under fire from Kerry and disabled advocates.
Kerry also has spoken out against recent spending caps placed on federal rental assistance vouchers, which are used by thousands of disabled people. And some advocates have said that if Kerry is elected, he will be more likely than Bush to appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In 2000, more than 16.4 million disabled Americans were estimated to have voted, a 41 percent turnout rate. Advocates are hoping as many as 19 million disabled people vote.
Nationwide, organizers estimate that they registered 400,000 new disabled voters, said Jim Dickson of the American Association of People With Disabilities.
Jacqueline Speciner, 46, was attending a conference in Baltimore when outreach workers showed up to register the disabled. Holding the pen was difficult, and it took long seconds to form each letter of her name. But finally, in a silent triumph over cerebral palsy, Speciner registered to vote. "This president we have now," said Speciner in a soft, strained voice, "he has to come out of office."
Chad Wheeler signed up to vote when advocates arrived at the Athelas Institute, a vocational center in Columbia that trains disabled workers. "You know I'll vote for George W. Bush," said Wheeler, 52, who works on the recycling crew. "He keeps the country secure."
Many polling places still present difficulties for the disabled. But the settlement of a lawsuit in the District and the Help America Vote Act -- passed by Congress in the wake of Florida's 2000 voting controversy -- have led to increased access. The federal law mandates that all polling places have at least one voting machine accessible to the disabled by 2006.
Such machines -- which feature touch screens, movable keypads and headphones to give audible prompts -- are in place in Maryland's 23 counties, in all District precincts and in 46 of Virginia's 143 counties.
During the primaries, some voters reported problems with the machines. But others said they were able to cast ballots without assistance for the first time.
Dickson, who is blind, waited for a private moment in the voting booth for more than 30 years. He finally got it, voting in the District's presidential primary.
"I still get goose bumps when I think about it," he said. "It was incredibly empowering."