Voting can be hard. The merits of candidates, sides of issues, and conflicting messages force us to make difficult decisions at the voting booth. We often have hard conversations with family, friends, and colleagues that examine our beliefs and challenge our thinking. Addressing challenging questions is critical for maintaining a rich and effective democracy. However, there is one thing about voting that should never be challenging – the act of casting your ballot. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities, this is an all too real concern.
No one should have to worry that the height of a ramp, width of a door, or presence of van accessible parking will keep their voice from being heard. But until recently this was the case at polling locations across Franklin County.
In April, the Columbus Dispatch revealed that 79 polling locations were being moved because they did not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. The Franklin County Board of Elections moved polling places to alternate locations, affecting roughly 15% of registered voters in the county.
These moves caught the attention of the ACLU. They raised concerns about unacknowledged challenges for people with disabilities going to cast their vote.
Calls to county boards of elections around the state discovered that the Secretary of State’s office issued an updated ADA accessibility checklist in the summer of 2013. This updated list contained over fifty improvements from the previous standards. These requirements covered features such as ramps, handrails, elevators, and parking that can mean the difference between getting to the voting booth or being left at the door. The review of all polling locations in Franklin County with this updated list revealed the need to move many polling places, but other counties have not conducted this same assessment. They continue to verify ADA compliance based on outdated checklists.
Believing that participation in the political process should not depend on ability status or county of residence, the ACLU sent a letter to Secretary of State John Husted. This letter calls on Secretary Husted to direct all Ohio counties to conduct comprehensive assessments of their polling locations using the most current checklist. This will ensure that the surprising extent of noncompliance seen in Franklin County is not present in other parts of the state.
Democracy functions best when all perspectives and experiences are involved. This requires voting be accessible to everyone. The challenge should be what you do when faced with your ballot, not what stands in your way to get there.