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Poll Accessibility Could Mean 60 Million More Voters

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The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Helping America Vote Act, as well as Michigan election laws, require accessible voting for all. The policies have been in place for decades. (PondShots/Adobe Stock)
The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Helping America Vote Act, as well as Michigan election laws, require accessible voting for all. The policies have been in place for decades. (PondShots/Adobe Stock)

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 Farah Siddiqi, Producer

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Wednesday, August 30, 2023   

In Michigan and across the country, nearly 25% of the population encounters challenges in voting and accessing the polls.

The Carter Center and Detroit Disability Power audited 261 polling locations in metro Detroit last election, and found just 16% of them fully accessible.

Dessa Cosma, executive director of the group Detroit Disability Power, said many polling locations do not have accessible parking, a ramp, clear signage, accessible doors or a direct travel path even just to enter the building. Once inside there are further challenges.

“No wheelchair-height voting booth or no functional voter access terminal which is the accessible voting machine that is required by law to be available and usable at all poling locations in the country,” Cosma pointed out.

Cosma noted people with disabilities need to be able to engage in democracy. One of the first steps to being able to help them participate is to make sure they can get to a polling place and vote.

Accessibility challenges lead to stories about voters going to the polls and having to turn back because either they could not get in or could not access a ballot. Groups advocating for accessible voting want to spread awareness about how detrimental lack of access is to communities.

Cosma acknowledged the policies are clear voting locations meet the needs of all voters, but enforcing those rules is equally important.

“That is where clerks and other election officials really come in because it’s their responsibility to make sure that all the polling locations are meeting the requirements of the law,” Cosma asserted. “We’re here to help them implement the best practices for making sure their polling locations are accessible and that many of the things that they need to do are not that hard and are certainly not that expensive.”

Cosma added simple changes like clearly marked accessible parking, ensuring the accessible door to the building is unlocked even if it’s not the primary entrance, making sure every precinct has a wheelchair height voting booth, and all accessible voting machines are maintained, plugged in and turned on.