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Access to be part of vote reforms
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Jan. 30, 2001 -- Today at 2:15, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), Rules Committee member, are holding a press conference to demonstrate the latest in election and voting technology. Last month the two introduced a bill to reform election procedures and provide grants to states and localities to update their voting systems.

Although the post-election flurry of media attention on voting methods hasn't routinely noted the problem with access for disabled people, there has been some good coverage, including two pieces by Memphis Commercial-Appeal Washington Bureau columnist James Brosnan. His Nov. 19 column, on the need for better voting systems, noted that "there already are voting machines, mostly designed for the disabled community" that should be examined for broader use. His Jan. 9 column noted that the National Organization on Disability feared "that the needs of the disabled will be left out as communities rush to buy new voting machines."

In the days before the election, both the Associated Press and The New York Times ("Seeing Eye Democracy," Nov. 2, at (free registration required)) reported on the new eSlate accessible voting machine. The AP quoted the Center's Bill Stothers on the need for more accessible voting procedures, as well as general access to the polls.

The McConnell-Torricelli bill provides up to $100 million in matching grants per year to states and localities seeking to improve their voting systems in a manner consistent with voluntary recommendations developed by the Commission. Although they will also study accessibility to polling places and recommend voluntary guidelines to increase access to polling places, in fact access to the polls has been a legal requirement for some time, albeit widely ignored. The 1984 Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. This law also requires states to make available registration and voting aids for disabled and elderly voters.

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