The US Constitution in various Amendments has expanded and reformed the voting rights of American citizens. However, the rights of our disabled citizens were only addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (Motor-Voter Act) and the Help America Vote Act of 2001 (HAVA).
In 1999, the NYS Attorney General reviewed the accessibility of polling places and discovered many issues that required improvement. Since 1999, NYS has tried to improve the voter turnout among the disabled however, as the past election of November 8, 2016 can attest, many problems are still present, depriving voters with disabilities their constitutional right to vote.
Voting is an important right that the government has granted to all US citizens. Through voting the average citizen will obtain a voice in their government. This allows our citizens to have a say in decisions that will have a significant impact on their lives. Therefore, when polling sites are not fully compliant with State and Federal laws, the disabled persons’ participation in the democratic process is obstructed.
In New York City, numerous examples of lack of accessibility have been brought to our attention. The past Presidential Election was obviously a game changer and the Polling Sites should have been fully staffed with well-trained poll workers and additional support staff on standby. Instead we heard numerous complaints, some are listed below:
The Ballot Marking Device assists voters with marking their selections on the paper ballot. The voter can view the ballot in different languages or font sizes. The BMD can aid people with various physical problems that may impede their voting rights. The BMD is attended by a Republican and a Democrat. However, we have been informed of instances where no one was stationed at the BMD. Eventually, when the voter was noticed, it was reported that poll workers not fully trained in use of the BMD, were called over to assist. This led to long waits further inconveniencing those with disabilities.
Another common complaint was that of the lack of an accessibility clerk. This clerk ensures that the alternate accessible entrance to the poll site is available to disabled voters. The accessibility clerk is also responsible for completing every 2 hours an ADA check list. The clerk also places outside signage that informs the voters of the location of the alternate accessible entrance. It was brought to our attention that signs were missing and that clerks were not present.
The next issue affected all voters, but was particularly troublesome for voters having mobility issues. A couple of months ago, PBS reported on the purging of 126,000 voters from the election rolls and I believe that there are still outstanding issues related to missing voters. After waiting at some polling places for over an hour, people were told again that they weren’t listed, a very stressful event. For some people with disabilities, an absentee ballot may work well, however many people want to be part of the voting experience and after taking the trouble to wait online, they do not want to be handed an affidavit. This problem must be resolved. This past April, City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a statement acknowledging “that there is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location or unable to get in to their polling site”.
I hope that the above events experienced by myself and others, will bring finally to the attention of the Board of Elections and the Attorney General of New York State, the various issues that have caused stress to our voting public and in particularly those with disabilities. This past Presidential Election was extremely important and I believe that potential voters did not all vote due to the above listed concerns. For those of us that have disabilities, the lack of people assigned to the Ballot Marking Devices, or the lack of appropriate translators and the improper location of outside signs, may have deterred people from casting their votes. It is our duty to provide a safe and accessible location for all American Citizens to vote. These basic complaints were prevalent throughout all the 50 States. The Federal government must vigorously address these complaints and issues with stronger language to the states to resolve these problems. Hopefully, by the next election, these recurring issues will be addressed and the general public will not experience any deterrents to our constitutional rights.