Accessible polling sites in a pandemic: Monroe County election board grapples with decisions

By next Tuesday, Monroe County’s three-member election board needs to decide the final locations of polling sites for the Nov. 3 general election.

One of the sites has a steep concrete slope leading to an entrance.  Board members are trying to figure out how to make it accessible for people who use wheelchairs to get around.

Another key consideration for poll site selection is the amount of space available for creating adequate distance between voters, to reduce chances of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

At the last couple Tuesday afternoon election board meetings, which are planned weekly until further notice, board members have discussed site selection issues.

They also reviewed the precautions that being taken to protect voters and poll workers from spread of COVID-19 at the polls. That’s a consideration for some people who might be considering taking a turn as a poll worker this year.

The election board will be using a full-complement of more than 30 sites—not the reduced set of seven that was used for the primaries in June. That’s because the election-day in-person voter turnout won’t likely be as dramatically damped as it was for the primaries, for which the state election commission allowed no-excuse absentee voting.

There’s an outside chance that no-excuse absentee balloting could be allowed—if an appeal to an initial decision in a federal lawsuit were to succeed. The oral arguments in the appeal have been scheduled for Sept. 30.

Local Monroe County officials, like those in the other 91 counties in the state, are planning for a heavy turnout for in-person voters on Nov. 3.

Accessibility of poll sites

For the primary election, the election board tapped disability advocate Randy Paul for his expertise in reviewing the limited number of polling sites that were used. Election board members and staff took video of sites and he provided feedback based on the footage.

For the general election, Paul is a now a write-in candidate for county commissioner, affiliated with the Green Party. The board felt that his direct participation with the review of polling site accessibility posed a conflict of interest.

So the election board tapped the city of Bloomington’s council for community accessibility to get a review of the county’s polling sites, with an eye towards using accessibility as a part of their criteria for site selection. The board also wanted to try to remedy accessibility problems for any sites that are selected.

Paul was at first sharply critical of the CCA’s approach. He said that the CCA was using an abbreviated version of Americans with Disability Act requirements. “If you shorten the requirements, because it’s more convenient, … you shorten the rights of people with disabilities to vote,” Paul said early on.

Last week, the board reviewed a site-by-site analysis and discussed the various remedies that needed to me made. Several of the sites needed accessible parking, marked off with cones and blue handicapped parking placards, near the entrances that would be used for polling. The board is mulling the possibility of providing portable restrooms at polling sites—some don’t have restroom facilities inside the building that measure up to ADA standards.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the election board, Paul had come around to a more positive view of the election board’s approach. Paul led off his public commentary by saying, “I’ve thought about a lot where we’ve been, where we’re at right now, going back to April when this issue accessibility first came up.” Paul said, “I talked to a good friend of mine this weekend and expressed my some of my concerns and he said, ‘Just don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ And I think he was absolutely right.”

The polling sites were not perfect with respect to the Help America Vote Act, Paul said, but added, “I’ve never seen as much time taken, especially during an election board meeting, on this topic.” Paul wrapped up by saying, “So, considering all you guys are dealing with in the pandemic, I’m OK with where you’re at. I think you’ve done a good job.”

One of the remaining issues that the board needs to nail down at its meeting next Tuesday is how to assign the precincts that normally would vote at the Meadowood senior living facility to some other site. Meadowood will definitely not be in the mix. So the precincts that normally vote at Meadowood will be assigned either to the Genesis Church or the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Genesis Church is problematic as a site, because the concrete apron leading up to the door is too steep to meet accessibility requirements. Someone who uses a wheelchair to navigate, would not necessarily be able to make their way up the slope. The board has checked into some possibilities, including a temporary ramp or construction of a more permanent one. By the time the board met on Thursday, no realistic solution and been identified. A decision will have to be made by next Tuesday.

Election board chair Hal Turner is reprising his 3D-printed face shield effort for the primaries with a 3D-printed door knob turner for polling places. The knob turner can be zip-tied in place “in three seconds,” according to Turner. People can use their fist or their forearm to catch the lever and use it to turn the knob.

COVID-19 precautions

Also on Thursday, the board reviewed the precautions that are going to be taken at the polls to protect poll workers and voters from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Tressia Martin, who’s deputy county clerk, walked the board through the highlights. Every poll worker is required to wear a mask or a face shield at election day polls and at early in-person voting. At early voting, the machines will be wiped down between use. Every hour, the tables will be wiped down with disinfectant. If a voter arrives without a mask, they’ll be offered one—whether they take it or not, is up to the voter.

E-poll books will be wiped down with isopropyl alcohol. Voting tables will have PVC extensions for the legs, so that they’re at a stand-able height—that means no chairs will have to be cleaned between voters. Chairs will be available, too, for those who can’t vote while standing.

Required physical distancing will be marked out on the floor. Polling sites were chosen so that in many cases where a small meeting room was used in the past, a gymnasium will be used, so that there is more space to spread out.

Weather permitting, doors to the outside will be left open to promote better airflow.

Background for prospective poll workers can be found on Monroe County’s Election Central website.

June 2, 2020 Primary Election Accessibility (Monroe County, Indiana)

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