TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Byron Baer, Joseph Coniglio and Nicholas P. Scutari, which would make polling places more accessible to seniors and individuals with disabilities, was approved today by the Assembly State Government Committee.
“As American citizens, we are given the right to vote but for many elderly and disabled individuals that right is often taken away by inaccessible polling locations, ” said Senator Baer, D-Bergen. “We need to be certain that all of the voting locations comply with the ‘Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990’ so that seniors and individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote.”
Under the bill, S-1387, county boards of election would be permitted to contact the managers of private buildings deemed to be suitable when accessible polling places are lacking.
The bill would amend current law to require each polling place chosen by a county board of elections to be in compliance with the “Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The bill also creates the Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee which would survey all polling locations and report which locations are inaccessible.
“For every disabled or elderly citizen the right to vote can seem empty, because the local polling facility is not accessible to them,” said Senator Scutari, D-Middlesex and Union. “Every election day we hear stories of people being turned away at the polls because they are unable to get into the building and do their civic duty. The goal of New Jersey lawmakers is to make the voting process possible for everyone.”
Under current law, temporary polling place accessibility 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. Under the bill, waivers are to be granted only twice for any single polling place.
“Right now, there is little incentive to find handicapped accessible polling facilities when waivers are so easy to obtain,” said Senator Coniglio, D-Bergen. ” The state needs to take a more proactive role in identifying those locations that are not handicapped accessible and working with the local county Board of Elections to find a better location.”
The bill now heads to the full Assembly for final legislative approval.