Two weeks ago, people swarmed Virginia’s polling places … to vote, and to survey accessibility. dLCV recruited volunteers from all over the state to do a simple survey of polling places. Was there accessible parking? Was there an accessible path of travel? Could the door be easily opened by someone in a wheelchair? Was there any accessible voting equipment?
With all of our wonderful volunteers, we were able to collect more than 300 surveys of polling places. Now comes the task of carefully assessing all the findings and remedying the problems we found. Sadly, we found plenty of problems.
One of the more troubling violations we found throughout the state was the absence of real curbside voting. Under state law, voters who are 65 or older or who have a physical disability are entitled to “curbside” voting: An officer of election will bring a ballot or portable electronic voting machine to the car for the person with the disability to vote there. State law makes clear that even with curbside voting, the voter gets to vote in private.
But throughout the state, we found place after place where there was no means for the person in the car to let the poll workers know they needed a curbside ballot. Some polling locations told us that the voter needs to come inside and ask for it … really missing the point, don’t you think? At one location, someone who was electioneering for a candidate had to cover up her campaign t-shirt and go inside to ask for the curbside ballots for people. Multiple times.
At my polling place, there was a sign outside listing a phone number you could call to request curbside voting. Although the sign was hard to read in the best of circumstances, the rainy weather we had that day completely wilted the thin paper sign. Unreadable. It was a good try — but it fell seriously short of being accessible.
On the Department of Elections website, voters are “reminded” to bring an assistant to go in to request the ballot, but no such requirement exists in state law. Requiring a voter with a disability to have an assistant would pose some serious legal questions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in any event.
We know that all Virginia polling places can do better, because many are fully accessible. As we analyse the survey results, and collect more election day stories, we will update you on what we have learned. For now, though, we extend a huge thank you to all our wonderful volunteers working with us to improve access for people with disabilities.