A Look at ADA-Compliant Polling Places
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The 2018 Midterm Elections
The 2018 midterm elections will take place at the beginning of November. Voters will have the opportunity to select their desired candidates in a number of races at the federal, state, and local level:
- All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
- 1/3 of all U.S. Senators
- 36 state governors and 3 U.S. territory governors
- Several city mayors
Right now, it’s crucial for individuals to familiarize themselves with the candidates and the issues so they can make informed decisions this November.
Further, those in charge of polling places should get a refresher on accessibility requirements, as ensuring access to all voters is vital—regardless of whether it’s a midterm election or a presidential election.
Voting Access for Everyone
Providing ADA-compliant polling places is necessary to ensure access for all voters. U.S. citizens with disabilities, minor mobility issues, and visual impairments have the same right to vote as those without, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.
Under federal law, election officials must provide a safe, private, and independent way for such individuals to vote. Unfortunately, as a number of locations fail to meet all accessibility requirements, many citizens struggle to cast their ballots when election time rolls around.
In fact, when the United States Government Accountability Office surveyed a sample of 178 polling places during the 2016 election, it was found that 60% had one or more potential impediments. That means only 40% were considered ADA-compliant polling places…
Failing to implement certain accessibility features not only violates citizens’ right to vote but also introduces the possibility of hefty fines and/or lawsuits. To avoid running into such issues, officials must be careful in selecting polling locations that are already accessible or can be made so with a few adjustments.
Accessibility Requirements for Polling Places
The ADA official website offers a helpful checklist for officials in charge of selecting polling locations. The checklist is “designed to assist officials in determining whether a facility being considered for use as a polling place is accessible to people with mobility or vision disabilities, and, if not, whether modifications can be made to ensure accessibility or relocation to another accessible facility will be necessary.”
Some of the factors that determine whether locations can be deemed ADA-compliant polling places are as follows:
- Parking– Per ADA guidelines, if parking is made available to voters, accessible parking must also be provided for those with disabilities. Specifically, there must be 1 accessible parking space per 25 spots, 1 of 6 accessible parking spaces must be van accessible, and van-accessible spaces must have an access aisle of at least 60 inches wide. Additionally, all accessible parking spaces must be marked with the appropriate signage.
- Ramps– If any part of the accessible route contains stairs, it must be ramped to allow access to those using wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Ramps with a rise more than 6 inches must have a handrail, and edge protection is required if there are vertical drop-offs on the sides.
- Entrances– To be considered ADA-compliant polling places, voting locations must have at least 1 door at the accessible entrance with a minimum clear width of 32 inches. Additionally, door hardware must be usable with one hand, so it can be easily opened by those with limited mobility in their hands.
- Hallways– Hallways in ADA-compliant polling places are large enough that those using wheelchairs can easily maneuver and navigate the building. Further, hallways should not contain any steps that could prevent accessibility for those with mobility issues.
- Signage– All ADA guidelines regarding signage, installed both inside and out, apply to voting locations. Further, temporary signage may be required in parking lots if accessibility spaces are added to accommodate voters.
For sign shops that have been contacted by election officials to help turn local establishments into ADA-compliant polling places, knowing signage guidelines is particularly important.
Signage at ADA-Compliant Polling Places
What Signs Are Needed
In addition to signage designating accessible parking spaces, directional signs are required in the event that the accessible route to the building differs from that of the general path.
Given that voting locations are set up at existing facilities, interior signs and directional signs should already be in place. However, the rules for such signs differ from those pertaining to identification signs.
ADA Sign Guidelines
As with all ADA signs installed in public facilities, there are some guidelines that must be followed for interior signage at ADA-compliant polling places, particularly displays that identify a room, space, or other area.
- Fonts should be sans serif and easy to read from a distance.
- There must be a high level of contrast between text/graphics and background.
- Signs should have raised characters and Braille lettering.
- There should be a non-glare finish on signs.
- Text and images should be the appropriate size.
These are just a few of the characteristics that ADA signs should possess. However, it’s important to thoroughly read through ADA guidelines to ensure that nothing has been overlooked.
With the midterm elections coming up, and more races on the horizon, officials need to be aware of federal laws to ensure that the locations they select as voting stations are, in fact, ADA-compliant polling places.
Businesses and organizations that are chosen to act as polling places can obtain temporary signage, but permanent features such as parking spots, accessible entrances, and ramps must be fitted beforehand.
Sign shops that are tasked with helping locations achieve compliance should also familiarize themselves with ADA rules to determine what signage is needed and what features must be included.