Judge demands better access for disabled voters

September 13, 2012 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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She cites case of Bay Ridge voter

Hon. Deborah Batts, federal judge for the Southern District of New York, has ordered the New York City Board of Elections to remove barriers at polling sites that hinder access to disabled voters.

The case, United Spinal Association v. Board of Elections of the City of New York, 10 Civ. 5653, was filed by two non-profit organizations, United Spinal Association and Disabled in Action.

The lawsuit alleges that the New York City Board of Elections discriminates against registered voters with mobility and vision disabilities, because it fails to ensure that polling places are accessible on Election Day.  The plaintiffs in the case argue that hindrances such as inaccessible ramps, missing signage and improper placement of voting equipment prevent disabled voters from getting to voting machines to cast a vote.

In a preliminary ruling, Judge Batts noted that there were “pervasive and recurring barriers to accessibility on election days.”

Judge Batts further stated that the Board of Elections “failed to provide disabled voters with reasonable accommodations.”  The court cited the example of Brooklyn voter Denise McQuade, who now votes via absentee ballot due to the dangerous wheelchair ramp at her polling place in Bay Ridge.

The parties followed up at hearing on Monday, Sept. 10. At this hearing, Assistant Corporation Counsel Stephen Kitzinger, arguing on behalf of the New York City Board of Elections, told Judge Batts that the Board of Elections “is actively working to make sure [that] all polling places are accessible.”

Judge Batts asked the Board of Elections to focus on approximately 40 polling places that have been cited as being the most egregious in the lack of access for disabled voters. Of the approximately 40 polling places, nine are located in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was able to obtain a list of the nine polling places in Brooklyn that will be included in this effort to increase access for disabled voters. According the New York Law Journal, Kitzinger said the coordinator in charge of each polling site will be equipped with a checklist and a chain to measure the width of doorways and the arc of open space around voting booths.

In addition, Kitzinger noted that coordinators will ensure that signs are effective, obstacles are promptly removed and problems are reported.

Judge Batts expressed faith in the board’s ability to correct these errors, saying “I don’t get the sense the Board of Elections shoves this [issue] like a stepchild into the corner.”

While the changes will not be implemented in time for the September 13 primary, Judge Batts has asked that both parties report back to her, on October 15, with the progress that has been made at each of the polling sites. The goal is to have many changes in place in time for the November 6 general election.

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