Greater polling place accessibility sought

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony March 14 on a bill that would make polling sites more accessible to voters with limited mobility.

<a href='' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Rick Kolowski'>Sen. Rick Kolowski</a>
Sen. Rick Kolowski

Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski said he introduced LB733 to bring Nebraska into compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The bill would require that polling places provide:
• at least one handicap-accessible parking space per 25 spaces;
• a voting booth that can accommodate a wheelchair;
• at least one designated van-accessible parking space with appropriate surrounding space;
• signs indicating that a poll worker is available to bring a ballot to the parking lot to enable someone to vote from their vehicle, including a phone number to call a poll worker for assistance;
• routes to an accessible entrance, inside and outside the building, that are at least 36 inches wide and free from obstructions; and
• a firm and slip-resistant floor in the voting area.

The bill also would mandate biennial training for election commissioners and county clerks to ensure that they are aware of current accessibility standards.

Kolowski said urban areas have higher compliance with federal law than rural areas, but, “all geographic regions of the state have areas that need improvement.”

Edison McDonald, director of the Arc of Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. He said current Nebraska law is incomplete and inadequate, particularly in regard to the right to vote from one’s vehicle at a polling place.

“If someone drives up, they’re not going to know they can curbside vote or how they can curbside vote. What are they going to do, honk really loudly and hope somebody comes out?” McDonald said.

John Cartier of Civic Nebraska also testified in support. He said federal funds already have been allocated to bring polling places into compliance.

“This means community centers, churches and many other places where Nebraskans congregate will get the upgrades necessary,” Cartier said.

Also testifying in support was Wayne Bena, Nebraska deputy secretary of state for elections. He referred to a Pew Research Center study that found Nebraska had the highest voting rate for people with disabilities in the nation, but acknowledged that work remains to be done. He said the secretary of state’s office is committed to helping counties improve accessibility.

“I don’t want to buy toys to buy toys, I want to find out what actually works,” Bena said.

No one testified against LB733 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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