Wisconsin Evaluates Polling Place Accessibility

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) has released a report detailing the accessibility of polling places for seniors and people with disabilities during the 2014 and 2015 election cycles. Using a post-election survey instrument and a customizable inspection tracking tool, the board audited 808 polling sites to ensure compliance with Wisconsin state law that protects accessibility for elderly voters, as well as with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which states must guarantee unhindered voting opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

According to the report, the average number of violations decreased from 6.5 problems per polling place in 2013 to 4.9 in 2014 and 2015. However, more than 1,600 of the nearly 4,000 incidents cited in the past two elections were severe enough to prevent an eligible voter from independently entering a polling place and privately casting a ballot.

The report also notes that most accessibility issues can be resolved by local elections clerks at virtually no cost, such as by providing additional signage. In more complex cases, federal HAVA funds are available for voting machine upgrades, site renovations, or securing alternative polling locations. The GAB plans to visit every polling place in the state by the end of 2016 and has been consulting with local disability groups to develop appropriate metrics and to evaluate inspection results.

Wisconsin began conducting post-election accessibility audits in 2011. Those efforts were highlighted in a report by the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which noted the need for administrators across the country to ensure polling site accessibility.

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Kelly Hoffman