Purchasing HAVA compliant voting equipment was just the beginning of a process to make it possible for all voters to have a private and independent voting experience. The polling places have to be accessible and they have to be set up accessibly.
That’s why the Secretary of State made HAVA funding available to evaluate polling places for accessibility. Truth is, these surveys have to be done every few years–they’re not a one time thing.
In San Mateo County, nearly 40% of our 231 polling place locations (or 87 locations) have changed since the last HAVA polling place survey conducted in 2006. Since many polling place locations host more than one precinct, that represents a significant portion of our registered voters.
(A precinct can serve up to 1,000 voters.)
Why is that? Well, here are a few of the reasons…
- In 2006 – the accessible voting equipment required more electrical support and more room. That spelled the end of most neighborhood garage polling places;
- More people now vote by mail. In response, we have created more vote-by-mail precincts – allowed by law when the number of election day precinct voters falls below 250;
- Many precincts have been consolidated–allowed by the Secretary of State in predictably low turnout elections;
- Properties change hands. Sometimes new owners don’t or can’t provide us their building for voting. Fire chiefs, while civic-minded, don’t like leaving their stations completely unattended when they go out on a call. And, some schools have expressed concern about the security and safety of their young students. These are just some of the reasons that sites become unavailable for polling places.
And it was time. Fortunately, our partners, the Center for the Independence of the Disabled in San Mateo County (they moved from Belmont) has the expertise to conduct these surveys.
We’re halfway done. It’s really encouraging to see the ADA improvements made in many of the county’s polling locations. Right now, there are just a handful of locations that we will probably have to relocate because we can’t identify a one-day mitigation to satisfy the ADA requirements.
Now if you’re wondering…what conditions would make a polling place unacceptable? Wonder no more. It’s things like a doorway that’s too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, inadequate (or no available) disabled parking, excessively steep ramps or walkways that make it impossible for a voter with disabilities to get inside the building, or a lack of curb cuts that prevents someone from getting from their car onto the sidewalk to gain entrance to the polls.
We’ll be ready for November’s election. And so will our polls.