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Davis County recognized for making polling places accessible for people with disabilities

Published October 26, 2012 11:39 pm

Voting • Ramps and signs make it easier to get to the ballot box.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Her multiple sclerosis can make getting to the voting booth difficult for Donna McCormick, but nothing stops her from casting a ballot.

And thanks to the Davis County Clerk's Office and its Elections Division, the experience is smoother for the Woods Cross resident and other people with disabilities. Staff members, along with a specialist from the Disability Law Center (DLC), have assessed every polling place and worked to fix any barrier that could make voting difficult.

That work was recognized recently by the DLC and the Tri-County Grassroots Advocacy Partnership (GAP) with the 2012 Accessible Voting Award for an urban county.

Davis County was presented with the award at a Sept. 27 ceremony at the Tri-County Independent Living Center in Ogden. San Juan County was selected for the rural county award, which it will receive on Oct. 26.

Sheri Newton, DLC voting access director, said the center has been assessing polling places throughout the state for the past two years and fewer than 35 percent of them in most counties are accessible to disabled voters.

"On the other end of the spectrum, Davis County has made significant efforts to make voting as accessible as possible," Newton said.

Davis County and San Juan County have used money obtained under the federal Help America Vote Act to help pay for some improvements.

The Davis County efforts include using upright signs to mark parking spots for disabled people; installing ramps at entrances; trimming overhanging tree branches that might impede blind people; adjusting doors so they need less pressure to open; and switching out doorknobs so they're easier to turn.

"We've just been really proactive with our polling places to make sure they're accessible," Davis County Elections Director Pat Beckstead said.

She praised the Davis School District, which provides the locations for the majority of the county's approximately 70 polling places, for its help in creating convenient and accessible polling places.

"That partnership with them has attributed to us winning the award," Beckstead said.

Kelie Babcock, GAP regional coordinator and assistive technology coordinator at the Tri-County Independent Living Center, said little things can make a big difference, such as assigning someone to open the door to a polling place. Offering to help but not assuming people with disabilities need everything done for them is another plus, she said.

Babcock, who uses a wheelchair, said absentee voting by mail and early voting when the polls are less crowded are options, but "there's something nice about being able to go out and being part of the community."

McCormick, a former poll worker, said narrow hallways can make it hard for her to navigate to the voting booth with a walker, but she likes to join fellow citizens at the polls.

At her Woods Cross precinct, election judges will bring a paper ballot curbside if requested. She plans to cast her ballot on Nov. 6.

"I will get there," McCormick said. "I want that sticker that says 'I voted today.' "

In San Juan County, the trip to the polls can be even more difficult because some voters cast ballots at Navajo chapter houses, which are not required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To get around the problem, County Clerk Norman Johnson has installed call buttons at two chapter houses. Voters can pull up to the curb, press the button and poll workers will bring a paper ballot to them.

For those who choose to go into the buildings, threshold levelers have been installed at the doors.

"We're trying to convenience the disabled voters," Johnson said. "Hopefully, this will make it easier.

pmanson@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC