TRENTON – Senators Byron Baer, Joseph Coniglio and Nicholas Scutari welcomed today’s approval by the Senate of their bill that would make polling places more accessible to seniors and individuals with disabilities.
“We need to put policies in place that make voting more accessible for everyone rather than put up barriers to voting,” said Senator Baer, D-Bergen. “The bill will make certain that seniors and individuals with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. We need to ensure that all polling locations conform to the standards set forth in the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
The bill, S-1387, would amend current law to require each polling place chosen by a county board of elections be in compliance with the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990” (ADA). Under current law, accessibility of polling places is based on the State’s barrier free subcode. County Boards of Election would now be permitted to contact the managers of private buildings deemed to be suitable when accessible polling place is lacking. The bill also allows voting facilities to be more than 1,000 feet from the boundary line of a voting district when there is no accessible polling place within the district or within 1,000 of its boundaries.
The bill would also amend current law to allow temporary polling place accessibility waivers to be granted only twice for any single polling place and for no more than one year. Under current law, these waivers are provided when it is determined that all potential polling places have been surveyed and no accessible polling place is available. There is currently no limit on the number of waivers that a district can receive.
“We need to be proactive in determining where we lack handicapped accessible polling places and work with the local county Boards of Elections to find alternative locations which meet the needs of all individuals in the community. Right now it is far easier to apply for a waiver then to address the real problem and find an accessible facility,” said Senator Coniglio, D-Bergen.
The bill also creates the Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee which would survey all polling locations and report to the Attorney General and the county Boards of Election which locations are found to be inaccessible. The Attorney General would be required to review the reports of the committee no later than July 1. The county board would be responsible for notifying the Attorney General and the committee of any changes in the polling place location before the next general election.
“The right to vote is arguably the most fundamental right in America,” said Senator Scutari, D-Middlesex and Union. “Yet, for far too many of the millions of Americans with disabilities, this right is empty because local polling places are not accessible to them. The goal is to make voting easy and simple for everyone including individuals with physical disabilities.”
Finally, the bill would create a non-lapsing fund in the Department of Law and Public Safety, known as the “Polling Place Accessibility Fund.” The money in this fund would originate from funds provided under the federal “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA) specifically for the purposes of improving accessibility to polling places. The fund would additionally contain appropriations by the Legislature and any money donated to the State for the designated purpose of improving accessibility. The money in the fund would be made available by the Attorney General to the county boards of elections for the objective of ensuring all polling places be in compliance with the ADA.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 36-0. It now goes to Assembly for their consideration.