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Polling Place Access to be Underscored for Tuesday’s Primary

February 12, 2008

Elections Division will Audit Polling Places for Compliance

Madison, WI – Wisconsin’s Elections Division will visit polling places during the Tuesday, February 19 President Preference Primary Election to determine whether municipalities properly provide access to all voters, including those with disabilities.

Federal and state laws require that polling places and voting equipment be accessible to voters with disabilities in a manner that provides the same opportunity for participation as that afforded to other voters.

“Our staff will visit polling places around Wisconsin to check their accessibility,” Elections Division Administrator Nat Robinson said. “All Wisconsin voters should be able to vote without difficulty at their polling places on Election Day.”

The state Elections Division has planned a multi-pronged approach to ensuring that all voters can vote – as federal law states, “privately and independently” – at their polling places in 2008. Audits of polling places will continue throughout the year.

Advocates for people with disabilities have met with Elections Division staff recently to review the agency’s plans for ensuring accessible voting equipment and polling places. Part of that review has included a revised statewide survey of polling places.

The state survey that municipalities use to review the polling place accessibility factors – such as the size of doorways, proper lighting, availability of handrails, and parking lot access – is being updated to produce a clearer picture of those municipalities’ needs.

In 2006, the State provided grants to municipalities to upgrade polling places, and it will provide further limited assistance to those municipalities that demonstrate the greatest needs. A 2007 report of the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau found that some polling places in the state still must be improved.

On the topic of voting equipment, all polling places in Wisconsin are required to have an accessible voting component that allows voters with disabilities to vote in privacy and without assistance. Poll workers should be able to help voters use such equipment.

“We have three more statewide elections scheduled this year,” Robinson said. “The intent of the Legislature and the Government Accountability Board is to clearly highlight accessibility and make all citizens more aware of access issues. It is our job to carry that out during this election year.”

The Elections Division will continue to address access issues with Wisconsin’s municipal and county clerks during 2008, and to publicize the topic with civic and community organizations throughout the state. In addition, the Division will encourage the general public to be aware of accessibility during elections.

Finally, Robinson will focus the agency’s efforts on accessibility, hire a separate staff person to work on accessibility, and continue the longtime practice of consultation with representatives of various groups which advocate for people with disabilities and older citizens.