People with disabilities can face challenges casting their election ballot in Chicago.
An internal analysis from the Chicago Board of Elections found that less than 10% of polling places were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The board says that doesn’t necessarily mean most of those locations are inaccessible.
Max Bever, director of public information for the Chicago Board of Elections, says 90% of polling locations are considered to be accessible. He sent a statement to WTTW News: “The Board has been working with the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Park District for years to perform remedies at inaccessible locations. While most of the Board’s polling places show at least one element that is not in strict compliance with ADA new construction standards, the majority of polling place locations are usable by most voters with disabilities.”
Bebe Novich, senior attorney of voting rights with Equip for Equality, says that buildings need to adhere to standards established by a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Those standards are for new construction, but most polling places pre-date the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There is no easy right-line standard for pre-ADA buildings, so the Department of Justice says that entities should use ADA new construction buildings as a guide … Any tiny deviation would render them supposedly inaccessible, still many of them can be accessible to many people with disabilities.” Novich said.
The Board of Elections says they are confident that by February’s municipal elections, more polling places will be accessible for voters.
For Robin Jones, a project director and principal investigator for the ADA Great Lakes, the city of Chicago still has a long way to go when it comes to accessibility.
“People still struggle with transportation in Chicago, so being able to get to that polling place is a huge barrier … So we still have an inaccessible transportation in Chicago,” Jones said. “Even getting from that bus stop to the polling place. There are still barriers along our sidewalks that can be a problem for people. Municipal elections are in the wintertime, so you talk about snow and we can have a long conversation about snow removal, which is a temporary issue but can be a huge barrier.”