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Votes Tallied: IA is a Winner in Voting Accessibility

June 11, 2009

Washington, D.C. – It's been months since the November election, but voters with disabilities may remember it like yesterday - because of sheer frustration at the polls.

The Government Accountability Office reports that about 70 percent of polling places nationwide had some sort of barriers to voting for people with disabilities last year. More than 30 percent of them lacked wheelchair accessibility, despite the existence of the "Help America Vote Act," which was signed into law seven years ago to ensure that voting was accessible to all.

Iowa can brag about a higher accessibility rate than the national average, according to Secretary of State Michael Mauro. He says there are uniform voting machines in every Iowa polling place, and the state has worked to make all of them easy to access for people with disabilities.

"We actually went out and helped different jurisdictions with making polling places more accessible, whether it be a ramp, or some paving, or those type of things."

Years ago, adds Mauro, his office issued hundreds of waivers of accessibility to precincts that could not meet federal and state requirements. Today, that has dropped to almost zero.

"The only exceptions would be in an emergency situation, or a case where nothing else is absolutely available - and that requires a waiver approved by the state."

Mauro says the November election was the first in Iowa in which every polling place contained a machine capable of assisting voters with disabilities, allowing them to cast their ballots privately and independently. Election officials also were required to go to the person's vehicle and help them vote on the spot, if they were unable to get into the polling place.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA