Today, the Commission on Disabilities hosted a very special 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Celebration at the County Government Plaza in
Redwood City with organizations, demonstrations, food, lawmakers, news media, friends and fun.
This prospective new voter gives the eSlate a "road test' as he votes the Famous Names Ballot.
San Mateo County Elections Office was there with our accessible voting equipment, voter registration forms, vote-by-mail forms, be a poll-worker forms, our grins and some helpful giveaways. We were joined by a SamTrans, the Hearing Loss Association, Hearing Dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Lions Club who sold barbeque and are famous for the work they do with the blind, and countless other organizations. The weather was beautiful, the mood festive, and the spirits were high. Every member of the Commission on Disabilities was there. We had a videographer on hand to capture some “B” roll for videos we’re working on. It was a fine day!
Here’s a little background. The ADA, signed by George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It was then and is today, landmark legislation that is making a difference in the lives of Americans. It’s impact is akin to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” It has changed our country for the better and made us a more inclusive place to live, to work, to play. Today is a day to celebrate! Today is a day to be proud of the way our country reinvents itself to improve the lives of all citizens.
- Access for All
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.
As our Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum said this week, “One of the things that the recent Iranian Presidential election and the controversy surrounding the vote totals proves is something he’s been saying for a long time – we need more real data in the field of elections.” To that end, he met with Professor Melissa Michelson of CSU-East Bay and Professor Neil Malhotra of Stanford to talk about possible academic studies related to elections.
For starters, the three agreed to apply for a grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission under the 2009 Help America Vote Act Mock Election section (CFDA #90.402) to encourage voting among young people, and, specifically to see if participating in a mock election will inspire youth to participate more regularly at a younger age. Young people have historically and consistently voted in smaller proportion than any other demographic section of the population. Even in the November 2008 Presidential Election when more young people voted than ever before, their participation was significantly less than other age groups.
Ages 18-29 51%
Ages 30-44 62%
Ages 45-64 69%
Ages 65 & older 70%
*(statistics from the Kirby and Kawashima-Ginsburg 2009 The Youth Vote study)
If funded, this study will test whether students participate in greater numbers: 1) if they are comfortable using the voting equipment, 2) if they understand the issues, 3) if they understand the mechanics of voting as well as the issues, or 4) if neither have any impact on voting behavior.
Students will learn how to use the voting device, use it for voting in a mock election that will be held the week before the regularly scheduled elections in November 2009 and November 2009. The results of the student vote will be compared with the results of the countywide vote and shared with all participants. Hopefully it will be funded and in the field this fall.
This week Secretary of State Debra Bowen notified San Mateo County that the grant request we submitted in January for Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funding was approved for $142,500. This is the first time that HAVA grants have been awarded on a competitive basis so we were keeping our fingers crossed. We worked with local leaders from the Commission on Disabilities who have advised us in the past on matters from selecting voting equipment, to creating brochures and siting the Universal Voting Centers in the November 2006 election to incorporate their ideas with ours and create the Accessibility Program that this money will fund. It will fund improvements in election officer training and projects that will ensure equal opportunity and access information for voters with disabilities. About half of the funds will go toward a project to re-survey all 250 polling locations in the County to determine accessibility levels and identify and purchase one-day (or permanent) mitigations to improve accessibility. And a portion of the funds will go toward the production of posters, ads, paratransit outreach and the creation of some closed-caption videos to air on public access channels, YouTube and our website. Great stuff!