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NY disability advocates want more accessible polling places

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Monday, October 23, 2023   

New York disability rights advocates are working to make polling places more accessible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 25% of the state's population has a disability. A Brennan Center for Justice report finds 95% of polling places in New York State weren't disability accessible.

Sharon McLennon-Wier, PhD - executive director with the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York - said one way to begin rectifying this is better poll worker training on operating ballot marking devices.

"A lot of the time people with disabilities are faced with the fact that the machine is not plugged in, the paper that's needed to mark the ballots are not put in," said McLennon-Wier, "and it seems as if the poll workers don't even know that that machine exists."

She noted that local election boards need to make accessibility a priority for poll workers in upcoming elections.

The Brennan Center report recommends the State Legislature add options for when voters want to cast ballots early like requiring polling places to offer curbside voting and the implementation of mobile voting units.

Other measures include making sure the State Election Board improves guidance and support on implementing accessibility standards.

But McLennon-Wier said a universal design for polling places can make voting a better experience for people with disabilities.

"My idea is for every two standard poll machines that's purchased, there should be also a ballot marking device purchased as well," said McLennon-Wier. "They should all be next to each other. The ballot marking device shouldn't be relegated to the corner or the back of the polling site."

The Brennan Center report finds in 42% of polling places surveyed, ballot marking devices weren't set up to ensure a disabled voter's privacy.

McLennon-Wier said she feels universal access makes people more aware of the needs of people with disabilities.



Disclosure: Center for Independence of the Disabled New York contributes to our fund for reporting on Disabilities. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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