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8 out of 10 polling sites have access barriers, says GAO report

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2001 -- A General Accounting Office report on access to polling places by voters with disabilities shows that

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accessible format

Voter Turnout & Voting Difficulties in 2000 Election

  • 84 percent of polling places limit access to people with disabilities
  • In many counties, accessibility is not even a criteria for selecting polling sites -- despite at least 3 federal laws mandating access to the polls for voters with disabilities.

"I am outraged by the results of this report," said U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) in a press conference Thursday. The report, "Voters With Disabilities: Access to Polling Places and Alternative Voting Methods" (GAO-02-107) had been requested by Sens. Harkin, John McCain (R-AZ) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "On the heels of press reports that African American voters disproportionately cast ballots that were not counted in Florida, this study indicates that not only are there votes that aren't counted, but there are many disabled Americans who can't even cast their ballot because they are physically impeded.

Our nation desperately needs to take immediate steps to ensure that all eligible Americans -- including disabled Americans -- can vote and that all votes are counted," said Harkin. "If there are Americans that cannot exercise their right to vote -- their most basic right as citizens of our nation -- we have failed to guarantee the privileges and responsibilities of democracy that they deserve.

From the report:

  • Accessibility to polling places varies significantly by state and within states. While Federal law exists to ensure accessibility to polling places, it is left up to states to define what "accessibility" means. Three Federal laws address access for people with disabilities to polling places: Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, the ADA and the Voting Rights Act.

  • In at least 27% of the counties studied by GAO, accessibility is not cited as a criteria for selecting polling places.

  • 84% of the polling places examined have one or more physical impediment which would limit access to people with disabilities - most notably those individuals with mobility impairments (of that 84 %, 67% would require the person to vote curbside instead of inside the polling place). For example, at voting stations configured for sitting, 43% did not have the minimum height, width or depth to accommodate a wheelchair and 51% of the stations configured for standing do not accommodate a voter in a wheelchair who has to reach forward and mark his ballot.

  • None of the polling places visited by GAO had special ballots or voting equipment adapted for blind voters.

  • Most state election officials told GAO that limited funding is one of the main barriers to improving voting accessibility.

"As Congress considers voting reform, it is critical that we include accessibility for disabled Americans. America is a nation built on every citizen's right to vote, we must take care to ensure that no one is turned away from a polling place because of physical limitations," said Harkin.






Kay Schriner and Douglas Kruse have conducted a number of studies about voting access and persons with disabilities.

Kay Schriner, Ph.D., Department of Political Science
University of Arkansas
501-575-6417 (direct)
501-575-3356 (reception)

Douglas Kruse, School of Management and Labor Relations
Rutgers University

The Trace R&D Center was formed in 1971 to address the communication needs of people who are nonspeaking and have severe disabilities. Its director is Gregg Vanderheiden.
Gregg Vanderheiden
Trace Research and Development Center
(608) 263-2309



The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
The Project on Disability Politics at the University of Arkansas looks at political participation of people with disabilities, voting rights laws affecting people with disabilities and disability in American campaigns and elections.

"Voters with disabilities face discrimination nationwide," A report in the November/December 2000 issue of Ragged Edge magazine

The Trace Research & Development Center's efforts to make electronic voting machines easier to use for the average citizen, our aging population and people with disabilities can be found at

The National Organization on Disability's "Getting Out The Disability Vote" campaign has background and commentary






Expert sources

Election reform legislation and access

Voting in America -- commentary

Accessible voting machines

Polling sites remain inaccessible


About The Center for An Accessible Society