ADA Election Misuse

Election Officials Misusing the ADA to Close Polling Places

By PVA National Staff

A new report from 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.

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. The ADA was never meant to be used in this way.

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.

To read the report, view video commentary, and see recommendations for how election officials can avoid poll closures, go here.

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