Fewer than one in five polling places were fully accessible to voters with disabilities during the 2016 general election, a government report shows — a finding that has prompted federal officials to recommend the Justice Department adopt stricter compliance rules. The report released Thursday by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office comes less than a week before mayoral elections in Atlanta and New York, elections for governor in New Jersey and Virginia and a special U.S. House election in Utah, and gives a window of only a year to address problems before the 2018 congressional elections. The bottom line in the report, provided to The Associated Press in advance of its publication, is that accessibility for voters with disabilities has not kept pace with the increase in early voting that has occurred in many states since the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Both early voting and the disabilities access improvements are top goals in making it easier to vote.
Instead, Republican President Donald Trump has urged action on unfounded allegations of voter fraud. More than a dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted tighter restrictions on voting this decade.
“With the increase in early voting, this research is timely. Are our guidelines and regulations and practices keeping up with the changing patterns of voting in America?” asked Wendy Underhill, elections program director for the National Council of State Legislatures.
Just 17 percent of the 178 polling places officials examined nationwide in the days leading up to last year’s election, and on Election Day, were without any impediments to voters with disabilities, despite the vast majority of states reporting they’d taken adequate care before voting started.