Clearing Voting Barriers for Chicagoans with Disabilities

October 12, 2018

Imagine you are excited about casting your ballot on Election Day and are turned away simply because you have a disability. Or imagine having to cast your ballot where other voters can see exactly how you vote.

Cynthia, a voter with a disability, was unable to use the accessible electronic voting machine at her polling place because the election judges did not know how to operate it. She was forced to cast her ballot sitting at a table in plain view of other voters with absolutely no privacy. Her only other option was to not vote at all. Cynthia’s experience illustrates the type of barriers people with disabilities routinely face when they seek to vote but are denied access to the election process.

Although federal laws exist to ensure that people with disabilities are able to fully and equally participate in the election process, they too often continue to face obstacles to exercising their right to vote. As part of its nationwide voting rights initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice has conducted Americans with Disabilities Act compliance reviews of polling places in dozens of cities and counties across the country. Findings of non-compliance have resulted in numerous settlement agreements to address the accessibility barriers, including a 2017 agreement with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners related to accessibility of polling places.

Voting Access Chicago

Following DOJ’s compliance reviews and findings regarding the accessibility of Chicago polling places, Equip for Equality, in collaboration with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, launched Voting Access Chicago, a multi-year initiative aimed at making all polling places in Chicago fully accessible to people with disabilities.

For the 2016 general election, Equip for Equality recruited and trained 220 volunteers to join its staff in conducting ADA accessibility surveys of the vast majority of Chicago’s nearly 2,000 polling places. Lawyers and other legal professionals from law firms and corporate legal departments joined with law students, staff and other volunteers to conduct these surveys. Based on the information obtained, Equip for Equality made recommendations to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners regarding temporary and permanent remedies to address the accessibility barriers. A sizeable group of Equip for Equality’s staff and trained volunteers returned to Chicago’s polling places in March 2018 for the primary election to gauge progress on the recommendations.

One Voting Access Chicago volunteer described the reality of the barriers faced by people with disabilities when they go to vote: It thrust me into the world of physical challenges that many [people with disabilities], and supposedly protected, citizens face on a daily basis. A lack of ramps for those in wheel chairs, the requirement to use the loading dock rather than have to climb several flights of stairs, the total and complete lack of privacy because the polling center lacked wheelchair capable voting booths so these folks had to sit at desks whereby one and all could see how they voted.

Your Campaign in Action

  • Equip for Equality received a $55,000 organizational support grant thanks to your generous support of the Investing in Justice Campaign.
  • Overall, Equip for Equality closed nearly 1,800 cases last year, almost 500 of which were handled by volunteer attorneys.
  • Through one of its newer projects Voting Access Chicago Equip for Equality trained 220 pro bono attorneys and law students to join its staff in conducting Americans with Disabilities (ADA) accessibility surveys of the vast majority of Chicago’s nearly 2,000 polling places. These efforts helped ensure Chicagoans with disabilities can exercise their fundamental right to vote and participate in our democracy.

Volunteer and Training Opportunities for the November 6th General Election

Voting Access Chicago
Monday, October 22
3:00-5:00 pm
The Chicago Bar Association
321 S. Plymouth Court

The right to vote is fundamental to a healthy democracy. Equip for Equality’s Voting Access Chicago is a non-partisan initiative to ensure that all of Chicago’s polling places are fully accessible to voters with disabilities and older adults who want to exercise their right to vote. Learn more about volunteering on Election Day, November 6, in 4-hour shifts as part of a team identifying barriers and conducting accessibility surveys of Chicago’s polling places. 1.5 hours of CLE credit subject to approval.

Register

Thanks to Equip for Equality’s work, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners will begin phasing in remedies to make polling places and early voting sites accessible for the November 6, 2018 general election.┬áTo ensure the progress and success of the implementation process, Equip for Equality staff and volunteers will again conduct accessibility surveys of a majority of the polling sites on November 6th. Volunteers receive a short training (with CLE credit available), have a four-hour time commitment on Election Day, and are even equipped with their very own toolkit, including a tape measure and electronic level. As part of the 2018 CBA and CBF Pro Bono Week, Equip for Equality will present a Voting Access Chicago Training on October 22 from 3:00-5:00 at The Chicago Bar Association (see textbox for more information).

To learn more about this nonpartisan pro bono opportunity:

  • Visit https://cbf.joinpaladin.com/chicago-bar-foundation/opportunities/voting-access-chicago-help-make-chicagos-polling-2/
  • Contact Bebe Novich, Manager of Voting Access Chicago, at 312-895-7262 or bebe@equipforequality.org

The Voting Access Chicago project is helping to ensure a fundamental principle of our democracy that people, specifically those with disabilities, can freely exercise their right to vote.