For Miami-Dade County voters who have had to wait up to seven hours on Election Day to cast their ballots, there’s an argument over what should take priority: the call to citizenship or the call of nature. Emails from a deputy elections supervisor and an assistant county attorney say Miami-Dade voters are banned from using restrooms at polling places. But the chief deputy elections supervisor pooh-poohed the notion. Number One and Number Two are fine in publicly owned voting sites, such as libraries and city halls, where bathrooms are open for anyone to use. The problem might arise when precincts are located in private buildings, which don’t have to allow public bathroom access, or in churches and other religious facilities, which are exempt from federal law requiring accessible restrooms for people with disabilities. Elections administrators have long relied on those locations to set up Miami-Dade’s more than 500 polling places.
Two years ago, the nonprofit Center for Independent Living of South Florida asked the department run by Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley, who is appointed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, about its plans for giving the disabled access to the polls.
Marc Dubin, the center’s director, said he hoped the county would try to find new voting sites to replace polling places without accessible restrooms, or that it would pay for portable toilets outside those locations.
Instead, the elections department told him that it would prohibit all voters from using restrooms. If no voters could go to the bathroom, the county argued, then it could not be accused of discriminating against only the disabled ones.
“This is the most bizarre response I’ve ever gotten, that we’re going to shut down access for everyone so as not to discriminate,” Dubin said.