Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

HAVA, State Initiatives and Polling Place Accessibility in 2004 and Beyond

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

HAVA, State Initiatives and Polling Place Accessibility in 2004 and Beyond

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

One of the stated goals of the Help America Vote Act ("HAVA") [1] was to ensure the accessibility of the entire electoral process for voters with disabilities. Making elections accessible to voters with disabilities requires two primary changes. Voters must be able to actually cast their vote on the voting system HAVA is clear on this point--one accessible voting machine is required at each polling place by January 1, 2006. But in order to use these machines, voters must be able to physically get into the polling place so that they can vote (or at minimum have the ballot brought out to them). As the 2004 election approaches, this article examines HAVA's success to date on this less studied area--physical access to the polling place.

Ultimately two factors are central to HAVA's success with respect to polling place access--the level of funding and the efforts of individual states. This article will provide background on the issue of polling place accessibility, evaluate HAVA efforts in this area, and trace some of the state, local, and third-party initiatives that have and have not addressed the issue.

I. BACKGROUND: SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM AND BARRIERS TO RESOLUTION A. Access Barriers

The effect of disenfranchisement of voters with disabilities is undisputed. People with disabilities make up almost 15% of the U.S. population--the 2000 census estimated that there were 56 million citizens with disabilities and 35 million of voting age. [2] As America ages, this number will only increase. The voting rate for citizens with disabilities is significantly lower than for the general population in large part as a result of the inaccessibility of polling places. In 2000, for example, more than 20 million eligible voters with disabilities failed to cast a ballot, according to United Cerebral Palsy officials. [3] In fact, had America's population of voters with disabilities voted at the same rate as the general population, 3.5 million more votes would have been cast and, given the proportionately larger share of Democrats among people with disabilities and the tight races in several states, Al Gore would have won the 2000 presidential election. [4]

The existence of a crisis of inaccessible polling places is also undisputed. Studies as early as a 1999 New York Attorney General survey found more than 90% of all polling places had some violation of state or federal accessibility laws. [5] Studies in Arkansas and New Hampshire likewise suggest that 40-60% of polling places in those states have significant barriers to access. [6] More recent state surveys also identify problems. For example, 96% of sites in Marion County (Indianapolis) have barriers--indicative of the level of access throughout Indiana, according to Julia Vaughn, project director for Count Us In, an advocacy group committed to election access with the Indiana Governor's Planning Council for People with Disabilities.[7] Surveys conducted in Chicago, New Jersey, and elsewhere have also consistently found at least 60% of sites inaccessible. [8]

Federal surveys have also identified significant problems. A 1992 Federal Election Commission study found that 14% (21,195) of the nation's 151,396 polling places had major impediments to access for voters with disabilities. [9] A survey conducted by the United States General Accounting Office ("GAO") addressed the problem on a national level with a sample size of 496 polling locations in 100 counties in 33 states during the 2000 election, using standards for accessibility set forth in Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines ("ADAAG"). [10]

This 2002 GAO Report found that significant barriers to access existed at polling places nationwide. [11] More specifically, the report found major barriers both outside and inside of the polling places, concluding that 67% of all polling/voting centers used in the 2000 election had some major form of impediment to voters with disabilities, that 56% had barriers but offered alternative voting arrangements, [12] and that only 16% had no barriers whatsoever. …

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