Luzerne County reaches settlement with government over election polling place accessibility

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]

Luzerne County has reached a settlement with the federal government to make election polling places more accessible to people with disabilities, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced Friday.

The settlement stems from a survey of 52 of the county’s 180 polling place locations during the Nov. 3, 2015, general election, U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler said in a public release.

During this review, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and an architect from the Department of Justice found “many of the county’s polling places contain barriers to access for persons with disabilities,” the release said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits state and local governments from discrimination in their programs or services, including voting.

The office said the county is “working collaboratively” with its agency to make all polling places accessible.

Under the settlement, the county must complete a form based on ADA architectural standards to evaluate all current and prospective polling places.

The county also must relocate inaccessible polling places or use temporary measures such as portable ramps, signs, traffic cones and doorbells to ensure accessibility on election day.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy,” Brandler said. “We applaud Luzerne County’s commitment to ensure that all persons with disabilities have equal opportunities to vote in person at their polling places alongside their neighbors.”

County Election Director Marisa Crispell could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. She said in November her office would be completing a reassessment of all polling places to ensure they are accessible to the disabled, have ample parking and enough space to fit a sufficient number of voting machines.

County Assistant Solicitor Michael Butera, who handles election matters, said similar findings were identified in other counties throughout the state as a result of inspections.

Butera said he is confident the county will be fully compliant with all requirements by the end of this year. The office already has examined all polling places and addressed some deficiencies, he said.

The federal standards are strict, to the degree that at least one senior center and municipal building used twice a year as polling places do not comply, he said. For example, Butera said the wheelchair ramp at Hazleton City Hall was deemed too steep under the regulations.

“We’re doing our best to correct what we can, and where we can’t, we will find new locations,” Butera said, noting the office has received no complaints from voters about access barriers due to disabilities.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.