Americas Aug 10, 2012
NEW YORK: On August 9, a judge ruled that thousands of voters with disabilities faced “pervasive and recurring barriers” when trying to vote at poll sites in the city. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts in Manhattan ordered the city’s Board of Elections to appear before her later this month to discuss possible remedies keeping in mind the presidential elections in November.
The ruling came after more than two years had passed following a lawsuit filed by two nonprofit organizations, which alleged that the city had failed to ensure proper access for voters with disabilities. The court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by the groups and found that it was impossible for any reasonable jury to hold in favor of the election board in the matter.
In the lawsuit, the United Spinal Association and Disabled in Action groups had accused the city of failing to respond appropriately to the serious accessibility problems for voters with physical disabilities at numerous sites in the city. The lawsuit alleged that the city continued with the practice even after inspectors noted barriers during several primary and general elections.
The lawsuit also claimed that most poll sites within public schools do not meet the accessibility standards for people with disabilities. The court observed there was, “copious documentation of barriers at poll sites, ranging from ramps that are unsafe or missing to missing signage and improper placement of voting equipment and furniture in voting areas.”
The court also mentioned the instance of one Brooklyn voter, Denise McQuade, who began using absentee ballots because the ramp at her local site was too steep and dangerous for her wheelchair. The court also observed in the ruling that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the existence of at least 500,000 New Yorkers with ambulatory difficulties and more than 145,000 with vision disabilities.
Disability Rights Advocates, the legal group that represented the two organizations, suggested assigning a specific on-site worker at each polling site to monitor accessibility. The idea was supported by the judge.
Julia Pinover, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs said, “This is a basic civil right that every American should have undeniably protected.”
The lawyer representing the city said he was “disappointed” by the ruling.
The case is United Spinal Association et al. v. Board of Elections in the City of New York et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-cv-5653.