CHICAGO (CBS) – The United States Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday a settlement with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to ensure accessibility of polling sites to persons with disabilities.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said hundreds of polling sites will need changes as the result of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice on accessibility.
Chicago Elections Board spokesperson Jim Allen said the commissioners have told the Justice Department they will make sure just about all the Chicago polling places are fully accessible to people with disabilities by the November 2018 elections. WBBM’s Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports.
The Board cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to voluntarily reach the settlement agreement without the need for a lawsuit.
Joel R. Levin, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced the settlement agreement, which became effective on April 11, 2017.
“The right of individuals to participate in our democratic system of government includes full and equal access to polling sites,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Levin. “This agreement represents an important step toward guaranteeing voting access to all of our citizens.”
In 2016 the Board of Election oversaw 1,452 polling sites that housed 2,069 precincts. In the spring of 2016 the Department of Justice reviewed more than 100 polling places in Chicago.
“They started reviewing, unbeknownst to us, polling places just testing to see how compliant we were,” he said.
The review found many sites have architectural barriers that make them inaccessible to voters who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments, or voters who are blind or have vision impairments.
“A school, a park, or a library or some other facility, might have one entrance that is accessible, but the ones that the voters use, the ones that the voters were limited to using on election day was not necessarily fully accessible,” he said.
Allen said changes range from fixing cracked sidewalks or ramps and widening doors, to replacing the polling sites.
“We anticipate that we are going to need some type of modification, whether minor or significant, or replacement at more than 600 polling places,” Allen said.
And yes he said local governments will have to find the money.
Allen said the Elections Board has reached agreement with the Justice Department and Chicago based Equip for Equality, the federally funded protection and advocacy system for persons with disabilities in Illinois, to have the fixes in place for the 2018 election season.
“We’re hopeful that we will be able to resolve as many as possible,” Allen said. “Again, if not by March, definitely by November.”
Officials started working with the feds last year.