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Highlights

Voting is fundamental to our democracy, and federal law generally requires polling places to be accessible to all eligible voters for federal elections, including voters with disabilities. However, during the 2000 federal election, GAO found that only 16 percent of polling places had no potential impediments to access for people with disabilities. To address these and other issues, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which required each polling place to have an accessible voting system. We examined (1) the proportion of polling places during the 2008 federal election with features that might facilitate or impede access for voters with disabilities compared to our findings from 2000; (2) actions states are taking to facilitate voting access; and (3) steps the Department of Justice (Justice) has taken to enforce HAVA voting access provisions. GAO visited 730 randomly selected polling places across the country, representing polling places nationwide, on Election Day 2008. GAO also surveyed states and interviewed federal officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Justice 1. To identify and reduce the number of potential impediments and other challenges at polling places that might hinder or detract from the voting experience for people with disabilities, the Department of Justice should look for opportunities to expand its monitoring and oversight of the accessibility of polling places for people with disabilities in a cost-effective manner. This effort might include the following activities: (1) working with states to use existing state oversight mechanisms and using other resources, such as organizations representing election officials and disability advocacy organizations, to help assess and monitor states' progress in ensuring polling place accessibility, similar to the effort used to determine state compliance with HAVA voting system requirements by the 2006 deadline; (2) expanding the scope of Election Day observations to include an assessment of the physical access to the voting area and the level of privacy and independence being offered to voters with disabilities by accessible voting systems; and (3) expanding the Americans with Disabilities Act: ADA Checklist of Polling Places to include additional information on the accessibility of the voting area and guidance on the configuration of the accessible voting system to provide voters with disabilities with the same level of privacy and independence as is afforded to other voters.
Closed - Implemented
Since 2009, the Department of Justice has used existing oversight measures to enter into settlements - with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2009 and Flint, Michigan, in 2012 - to resolve allegations of inaccessible polling places. The agency has also conducted outreach to disability rights groups to encourage their assistance in ensuring compliance with federal accessibility requirements in voting. In addition, Justice has expanded the scope of its Election Day observations to include an assessment of the physical accessibility of polling places. In moving forward, Justice could build upon its actions by expanding (1) Election Day observations to include an assessment of the privacy and independence provided by accessible voting systems and (2) the scope of the ADA Checklist for Polling Places to include additional information on the accessibility of the voting area and guidance on the configuration of the accessible voting system.

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