At a meeting July 19th, the Monroe County Election Board approved a plan aimed at making voting sites more accessible for people with disabilities. The Board voted to have a team of workers inspect voting locations for compliance with the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. That federal law includes requirements that sites have appropriate parking and equipment such as ramps. The Board first had a conversation about whether it would be acceptable to use strategies such as shuttling people to and from parking lots in golf carts..
“If somebody cannot make the walk from the parking lot, we have a golf cart that picks them up,” said County Clerk Linda Robbins.
“I do not like segregating people that,” said Judith Smith-Ille.
“That is not HAVA compliancy. That is making some people different from others and I will never vote for that.”
Smith-Ille said the golf carts idea would effectively segregate people with disabilities from other voters.
“Let us use the golf cart idea,” said Randy Paul, a disabilities rights activist who has lobbied the Country to comply with HAVA.
“The reason I think that idea should be temporary is that I understand what Judy is saying. It does make someone who has a disability feel different. For some people there is embarrassment. That is why I was so negative about the wheelchair option. I know what it was like when I first started using a wheelchair. I think we need to move off of where we were and move forward, and I think in doing that if we have an agreement saying let us move towards compliancy. Let us do what we have to in short-term to make it work. So at North let us do the golf carts or whatever we have to do with the idea that we will move towards total compliance.”
Robbins said she is still committed to making the County’s voting sites comply with the law. But she suggested advertising one particularly accessible voting site as an alternate location for any voters who worry their regular sites won’t be accessible.
“I just want to be clear here is that that suggestion in no way meant that I was looking at making the site of it accessible, HAVA compliant,” said Robbins.
“I just thought that could be an option for someone who was concerned. Someone who has maybe had a poor experience in the past, that wants to make sure they can. That they know that there is a place that they can go.”
Smith Ille was opposed to that plan, saying she wouldn’t want voters to feel embarrassed for using a special voting site. She instead said the County should work to make all the sites compliant with HAVA. Robbins later suggested the County have a group of inspectors check each voting site for accessibility once the Board selects the sites.
“I would like to make a motion that once we determine our polling location sites,” said Robbins.
“That we do request that Randy Paul and other selected employees of the clerk and other representatives that seem necessary will be to review the sites for HAVA compliance and what we need to do to make them HAVA compliant. “
The Board voted unanimously to approve Robins’ plan.