Polling place access for the disabled to be improved in New York

| May 22, 2014

Disabled New Yorkers may soon have improved access to polling places. In a lower court decision, a judge had ordered changes at New York City polling locations, according to the Connecticut Post. Last week, a federal appeals court agreed unanimously with that judge’s decision.

The written decision, enacted by Manhattan’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, responds to a 2010 lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 500,000 New York residents of voting age with vision and mobility disabilities. The panel decision found that the Board of Elections had discriminated against disabled voters in their failure to make polling sites usable.

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New York is making voting locations accessible to those with vision and mobility disabilities. From John Morton.

The New York City Board of Elections did not provide satisfactory services for the disabled during the 2012 elections, Judge Deborah Batts had ruled. She ordered a number of updates to address the lawsuit’s complaints, including missing signs, makeshift ramps, locked accessible doors, and impediments, such as steps, that blocked those with disabilities from entering polling places.

The appeals court agreed with Judge Batts’ ruling and that her order for updated services is a “proper exercise” of the Judge’s authority, according to the Connecticut Post. A panel of three judges also concurred that the NYC Board of Elections does not afford disabled New Yorkers adequate use of polling places. New York City has approximately 1,300 polling sites, but only two of these were officially identified by the Board as inaccessible. However, the Board of Elections did admit that 30 percent of the polling places were not accessible before election days.

The appeals court noted that, “By designating inaccessible poll sites and failing to assure their accessibility through temporary equipment, procedures, and policies on election days, BOE denies plaintiffs meaningful access to its voting program.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a legal nonprofit, and the lawsuit was filed by United Spinal Association and Disabled In Action, two separate organizations. “I am very pleased that the Court has recognized how important it is for persons with disabilities to be able to exercise the fundamental right to vote,” James Weisman, a lawyer with the United Spinal Association, in a statement. “This decision will finally give New Yorkers with disabilities the opportunity to vote at their poll sites just like non-disabled voters.”

Disability Rights Advocates attorney Stuart Seaborn, said, “Voting at poll sites on Election Day is such a fundamental part of the civic experience for New Yorkers and we are thrilled that the Court of Appeals’ decision will open up this experience to voters with disabilities.”

Part of the plan to improve disability access going forward includes appointing a disability coordinator for each polling site on Election Day, working with an outside accessibility advisor to analyze the city’s polling sites, and removing barriers to access or designating alternate locations for inaccessible polling places.

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Category: ADA

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