James J. Sampel
New York City Board of Elections
200 Varick St., 10 Fl
New York, NY 10014
Dear President Sampel:
I am writing in regard to compliance with federal civil rights law at polling sites throughout New York’s 29th State Senate District. The Center for Independence of the Disabled (CIDNY) surveyed twelve distinct polling sites in my district and found significant deficiencies including poll workers who were not prepared to accommodate the needs of the disabled voters and inadequate poll site access.
Federal civil rights law requires that these issues be resolved so that in November's historic elections individuals with disabilities will have a fair chance to vote. The most crucial steps involve education for the poll workers about the Ballot Marking Device, including comprehensive training in the features that enable disabled constituents to vote, and elimination of physical barriers which prevent access to voting sites.
According to CIDNY, the poll worker trainings that the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) conducted earlier this year mentioned the Ballot Marking Device, but did not provide detailed instructions on how it is used. While it is our understanding that at least one poll worker assigned to each poll site has been provided the necessary, comprehensive training in the Ballot Marking Device's usage, CIDNY found during the September 9, 2008 Primary election that the individual who received that training was often not present. As a result, disabled voters at many poll sites were disenfranchised.
Inequalities in voting access for disabled New Yorkers should not be tolerated. As a result of the Help America Vote Act, New York has met the requirement of providing at least one accessible voting machine per polling site, but in order to provide truly equal voting access, the BOE must ensure that physical barriers to poll sites are removed and that poll workers are properly trained to assist disabled voters.
I understand that with the November 4, 2008 election around the corner, time is short and the pressures upon the BOE are many. Nonetheless it is absolutely necessary that these issues be resolved swiftly not only within my State Senate District but throughout New York City.
Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate