For Voters With Disabilities The Polling Location Can Sometimes Be A Barrier To Accessibility

Because all sorts of buildings are used as polling places, the amount of accessibility varies widely.

By Laura Rice & Shelly BrisbinOctober 27, 2020 11:18 am, , ,

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. It bars discrimination in public accommodations, and is supposed to allow for full participation for people with disabilities.

But even with something as fundamental as voting, people with disabilities sometimes face limited access.

In 2014, a federal survey of polling places in Harris County found just 1 in 3 were accessible. One reason is that voting often takes place at facilities that aren’t fully compliant with the ADA, as most public buildings are. The survey resulted in improvements to Harris County’s polling place accessibility.

Leonard Lane was part of that survey, and continues to push for accessibility at the polls. Lane is an architect and a registered accessibility specialist. He told Texas Standard that accessible parking spaces, ramps and curb cuts and doors that are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs are a few of the architectural barriers voters with disabilities can encounter at the polls. 

“In Harris County, there are over 800 polling places on Election Day, and the vast majority of them are not government – in this case, county – owned,” Lane said.

Counties that require voting at a specific precinct polling place can be problematic for disabled voters who don’t have the option to choose a more accessible location. Lane said Harris County, along with other large Texas counties, now uses countywide voting centers to enable more choice.

Voters with disabilities also have choices when it comes to how they cast their ballots. They can apply for a mail-in ballot, vote in person or request curbside voting in which a poll worker brings a ballot device to the voter’s vehicle. Lane suggests contacting the county elections office or polling place ahead of time if you want to use curbside voting. 

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission also has tips for voters with disabilities, including how to choose the most accessible voting method and how to find the most accessible polling locations in your area. 

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