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Disability Access Lagging at Polling Places

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Voting site and sign at 2013 election in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Voting site for November 2013 election in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

New York City officials are calling for the Board of Elections to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote.

In May, a federal appeals court ordered the Board to improve access to polling places, but a new report by the Public Advocate's office and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (CID-NY) said changes are lagging. Public Advocate Letitia James said that inadequate signage and locked doors on access ramps were just a few of the problems preventing some people with disabilities from voting.

"Clearly, the fact is there was not a lot of space, there were room changes, there were no coordinators," James said. "There was no one in charge and a significant number of individuals unfortunately were not allowed to exercise their franchise, which is their basic right."

The report said that many of these issues can be easily and inexpensively fixed. The report also recommended that the Board of Elelctions develop specific agreements and standards with the Department of Education, which oversees polling places at public schools. Susan Dooha, CID-NY's Executive Director, called on the Board of Elections to swiftly comply with the federal ruling.

"The New York City Board of Elections has yet to address fundamental structural reforms that will change the voting experience for people with disabilities and make it an equal experience," Dooha said.

Board of Elections executive director Michael J. Ryan said that the board is working with schools to make sure they meet federal disability requirements, and is updating training for site coordinators. Both a primary and a general election are scheduled for the fall.

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