Senator John J. Flanagan (2nd Senate District), the Chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, today announced that this year's legislative budget will include $5 million in funding for disabled access to polling places. This funding, which Senator Flanagan originally had placed in the Senate's budget, is the result of an agreement between Senator Flanagan and the Assembly leadership.
The funding will be dedicated to making necessary improvements to polling places throughout the state. This would include widening existing doorways, adding ramps, improving parking access and spaces and other features that will provide voters with disabilities access to the polls.
"I am pleased that the Assembly has joined our commitment to making sure that everyone in our state enjoys the same rights and ensuring that our state fully protects each person's right to vote," stated Senator Flanagan. "The buildings that are used as polling places must be fully accessible to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to vote. That is my position, that is the position of the Independent Living advocates and that is the position of the Justice Department. New voting machines are only an improvement if voters are able to enter the building to use them."
Under the agreement, the $5 million will be shared by local election boards and will be distributed according to the formula currently used to distribute the funding for purchasing new voting machines. This will allow the local boards to remain flexible in their utilization of state money and allow them to implement the modernization of their polling places.
"Providing physical access is a positive step in enabling people with disabilities to exercise their basic voting rights. The Department of Justice has issued clear guidelines to making poll sites accessible to all. We hope that these guidelines will be utilized when funds are administered for these access changes," said Suffolk Independent Living Organization Executive Director Edward J. Ahern. "We appreciate Senator Flanagan’s efforts in creating funds for this necessary project."
The agreed upon funding will now be sent to Governor Pataki for approval.
The $5 million that was agreed to during budget negotiations was part of a package Senator Flanagan successfully sponsored last year in the Senate. This bill, which was not approved in the Assembly, also include
*eliminating local county waivers on poll sites to ensure that all polling sites would be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act;
*requiring coordination with disabled advocacy groups to identify and fix non-compliant poll sites;
*directing the local boards to maximize the use of public and tax-exempt buildings;
*instructing localities to develop parking plans to assure parking spaces for people with disabilities are in close proximity to polling places on election day;
*requiring that polling places be placed on public transportation routes whenever practicable to minimize the parking demands on election day.
"According to the State Independent Living Council, there are over 3.3 million people with disabilities in New York State. We have an obligation to ensure that they have access to the polls and that they can fully exercise their right to vote," added Senator Flanagan. "No barrier should remain in place when New York State is finished reforming our voting system and this funding will help that process."
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