Election Officials Misusing the ADA to Close Polling Places

January 30, 2020
Election Officials Misusing the ADA to Close Polling Places

For Immediate Release

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

Washington, DC – A new report released today by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) shows many of America’s polling places remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. The report, entitled Blocking the Ballot Box: Ending Misuse of the ADA to Close Polling Places, also examines an alarming new trend in which jurisdictions are misusing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to close polling places, a practice that NDRN vehemently opposes.

The ADA requires all polling places to be accessible to people with disabilities and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that all Americans have the right to a private and independent vote. When the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v Holder struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required federal approval before changes could be made to election procedures, jurisdictions with a demonstrated history of discriminatory voting practices saw an opportunity — blaming their polling place closures on the ADA and access needs of voters with disabilities.

“After the Supreme Court struck down protections in the Voting Rights Act, counties and cities began citing ADA concerns as the reason for closing, relocating, or consolidating their polling places,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “The ADA was never meant to be used in this way and we challenge any jurisdiction that attempts to close a polling place because it is not ADA compliant.”

In this report, NDRN spoke to and visited counties with recent Department of Justice (DOJ) settlements for polling place accessibility. NDRN found these counties were working to be more accessible while keeping polling places open. Alternatively, counties that did not have a recent DOJ intervention and had not shared ADA surveys of their polling places or any collaboration with the disability community, seemed more likely to attempt closing polling places.

“The idea that making polling places accessible is too expensive and forces closures is a lie,” continued Decker. “The solution to inaccessible polling places is not to close them…it is to make them accessible. It’s clear to us from this investigation that these counties are not interested in improving accessibility. They are simply looking for excuses to close polling places and making it harder for people to vote.”

To read the report, view video commentary, and see recommendations for how election officials can avoid poll closures, go to Blocking the Ballot Box: Ending Misuse of the ADA to Close Polling Places.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.