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City Council Calls on City to Improve Poll Access for Disabled Voters

By Carla Zanoni | September 28, 2010 8:38pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Upper West Side Councilwoman Gail Brewer called on the city to improve access to polling sites for voters with disabilities Tuesday afternoon, after many complained of problems on Primary Day.

Problems included a lack of ramps and wheelchair-accessible doorways at polling sites and a dearth of accessible ballot marking devices (BMDs), which offer an alternative way to mark a paper ballot to then scan into the new optical scanning voting machines.

The BMD also but have special tools for physical disabilities or anyone who has trouble reading small print and marking an oval by hand.

"Every voter must be given equal opportunity to exercise their right to vote," Quinn said in a statement. "It is unacceptable that any voter be discouraged from voting because they are unable to appropriately access their polling site."

Quinn and Brewer endorsed a set of recommendations issued by the Center for Independence of the Disabled (CIDNY), an advocacy group that conducted a citywide polling site survey on Primary Day and found numerous problems with the system.

"CIDNY is calling for systemic changes to ensure that voters with disabilities are no longer disenfranchised by lack of training on disability access and voting technology, locked doors and blocked pathways, and lack of coordination by City agencies charged with providing facilities for voters," CIDNY executive director Susan Dooha said in a statement.

Brewer echoed the sentiment.

"I call on improved training not only for poll workers but also poll watchers to ensure that disabled voters have a full and fair experience on Election Day," she said in a statement.

The Council plans to hold a hearing on the issue on Monday, Oct. 4, when it will take a look at how to implement CIDNY's recommendations and look into other issues including, voter privacy, machine problems and inadequate poll worker training.

Michael Harris, a disabled journalist, said he had problems voting during the primary as well, but was pleased to see that the council was taking a step toward making changes before November.

"The big issue is not so much the primary, but the general election, next year's election and the year after that," he said.

"While I am disappointed that the primary turned out the way it did, the Board of Elections can still turn things around and vindicate itself."