Access to Polling Places for People with Disabilities Better But Not Perfect

While voting was much easier for people with disabilities in the 2008 election compared to 2000, many polling places still have impediments to voting that need to be removed, according to a new study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

After voters encountered significant problems at the polls during the 2002 election, Congress passed the Help American Vote Act (HAVA). While some of the provisions of this act were designed to safeguard election results and prevent tampering with ballots, another important part called for increased access to polling places for people with disabilities. The HAVA mandated that all federal polling locations must put in place at least one system that is accessible for people with disabilities, and the system must provide the opportunity for people with disabilities to vote privately and independently. To meet these goals, $79.5 in federal grants has been disbursed to the states since 2003.

In 2008, the GAO surveyed 730 polling places across the country to measure compliance with the HAVA, and it found significant improvements in accessibility since the HAVA was passed. Compared to 2000, almost all polling places gained an accessible voting system. However, the GAO found that roadblocks still stand in the way of all voters getting to the polls.

According to the GAO report, 27.3 percent of the polling places surveyed had no impediments between the parking lot and the voting system, a 16 percent increase over 2000. Furthermore, 45.3 percent of the polling places that had some kind of impediment offered curbside voting so that people with disabilities could vote from their cars. Still, the other 27.4 percent of polling places had potential impediments and did not offer curbside voting. Also, 46 percent of polling places had an accessible voting system that "could pose a challenge to certain voters with disabilities". The survey found that only 3 percent of the polling places did not have designated parking for people with disabilities, an improvement over the 32 percent of polling places that did not have those parking spaces in 2000.

The GAO report recommends continued monitoring by the Justice Department to ensure that accessibility improves for the next round of elections in 2010. The report also recommends expanding the Americans With Disabilities Act: ADA Checklist of Polling Places to include additional guidance for poll workers who need to set up voting systems for people with disabilities.

To read the full GAO report, Voters With Disabilities: Additional Monitoring of Polling Places Could Further Improve Accessibility, click here.

Article Last Modified: 11/02/2009