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Post date: November 1 1999

Polling Places Found Inaccessible To Disabled

counties has found that less than 10 percent of polling places fully comply with state and federal laws guaranteeing access for persons with disabilities.

"The voting booth is one of the most important symbols of an open society," Spitzer said. "It is simply unconscionable that so many polling places are inaccessible, and so many New Yorkers are being denied their most fundamental rights."

The survey -- conducted with the assistance of the Catskill Center for Independence -- examined polling sites in Schoharie, Otsego and Delaware counties and found that it was virtually impossible for many persons who require the use of a wheelchair to cast a ballot in a voting booth. The findings of the survey were bolstered by a month-long investigation by the Attorney General's office of the sites in those counties.

The survey and the follow-up investigation revealed a pattern of obstacles, including the following:

  • Many polling places have entrance steps and lack a wheelchair ramp;
  • Doorways to the polling place often are not wide enough to accommodate a person using a wheelchair;
  • Entrances to the polling place are too far from a parking lot, and include a path of uneven or unpaved terrain; and
  • Polling place parking lots often have no reserved parking spaces for those who require the use of a wheelchair.

Such obstacles violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Election Law, which require that each polling site make appropriate provisions to facilitate use by persons with disabilities.

In response to the findings, Spitzer's office contacted county officials and is working to improve access for the November 2nd election, and subsequent elections. Spitzer praised the willingness of certain county officials in addressing problems.

In addition to helping persons with disabilities, the improvements would benefit many senior citizens and others who have problems with mobility and may help increase overall voting participation rates, Spitzer said.

Disability rights groups praised the initiative: Richard Zachmeyer, Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Independence in Oneonta, said: "Everyone should have the opportunity to exercise their right and responsibility to vote in a fully integrated environment with their family, friends and neighbors."

Brad Williams, Executive Director of New York State Independent Living Council, said: "The Council greatly appreciates the efforts of Attorney General Spitzer and his Civil Rights Bureau to increase the accessibility of polling places for New York citizens with disabilities."

As part of a continuing effort to improve compliance with state and federal laws, the Attorney General's office will be surveying the accessibility of polling places on the November 2nd Election Day in many locations across the state, including the Bronx, Long Island, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, Poughkeepsie and Binghamton. The effort is being coordinated by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau, with the assistance of disability rights groups.

Assistant Attorneys General Ruti K. Bell (Disability Rights Project Coordinator), Carrie H. Cohen and Tynia D. Richard worked on this investigation under the direction of Civil Rights Deputy Bureau Chief Mark G. Peters and Bureau Chief Andrew G. Celli, Jr.