June 16, 2021 - The Justice Department yesterday reached a settlement under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Newton County, Arkansas, and its Board of Election Commissioners to ensure that the County provides an accessible voting program, including accessible polling places, to voters with disabilities.
The Department of Justice reviewed the County’s voting program for compliance with the ADA. The United States identified architectural barriers at the County’s polling places, such as a lack of accessible parking areas and pathways made inaccessible by gaps and level changes, as well as gravel and grass. It also identified ramps that were too steep, some without handrails and edge protection, and barriers inside polling places. The United States also found that all polling places used in the March 2020 primary election lacked accessible voting machines that worked.
Under the ADA, governmental entities that conduct local, state, or federal elections must select polling places that are accessible to individuals with disabilities, and they must make reasonable changes necessary to ensure equal opportunity to participate in voting programs. Governmental entities must also provide an election ballot that is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind, so that they can vote privately and independently.
“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This settlement ensures that eligible voters with disabilities in Newton County, Arkansas, will have the opportunity to exercise this fundamental right and have a voice in our democratic process. We will continue working to ensure that all eligible Americans have access to the ballot.”
Under the agreement, the County will create and implement new policies to bring its voting program into compliance with the ADA. These policies include: creating an effective system for selecting accessible locations for polling places; surveying polling places to identify accessibility barriers; maintaining the accessibility of each polling place used on election days; using temporary accessibility measures, such as mats or ramps; and providing an accessible voting machine at each polling place. In addition, the County will designate an employee to serve as an ADA coordinator and provide training to election officers, poll workers, and County employees. The required training will cover accessibility under Title II of the ADA and anti-retaliation protections under Title V of the ADA.
This settlement is part of the department’s ADA Voting Initiative, which focuses on protecting the voting rights of individuals with disabilities. A hallmark of the ADA Voting Initiative is its collaboration with jurisdictions to increase accessibility at polling places. Through this Initiative, the Department of Justice has surveyed over 2,400 polling places and increased polling place accessibility in over 50 jurisdictions, including St. Louis, Missouri; Harris County, Texas; Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania; and Anderson County, South Carolina.
For more information about the ADA and today’s agreement, please visit http://www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY). ADA complaints may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint.
Source: DOJ Release