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Disabled Voters Face Obstacles at Polling Places

GAO investigators find many voting venues aren’t easy to reach

Disabled people face impediments at voting places nationwide.

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60 percent of the polling places across the nation were found to have one or more potential impediment for disabled people.

Older voters with disabilities may have a tough time exercising their right to participate in elections, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The GAO examined 178 polling places across the nation during early voting periods and on Election Day during the 2016 campaign. Officials looked at parking prospects, the difficulty of getting from parking lots to voting booths, and other factors. The agency found that 60 percent of them had one or more potential impediments for disabled people.

At some polling places, just getting from the lot to the voting booth might be a challenge for a person with mobility problems, the GAO found. Thirty-three percent of the polling places had at least one potential impediment outside, such as unpaved parking lots, steep walkways and automatic doors that didn’t work. One polling place tried to meet accessibility requirements with a makeshift ramp improvised from a folding table and a block of wood.

The GAO also looked at a smaller sample of 137 polling place interiors and found that 65 percent had voting stations that would impede the privacy of casting a ballot. For example, some polling places didn’t have booths that would accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

Census data suggests that older voters are more likely to be disabled than younger ones. Some 25 percent of American adults ages 65 to 74 have a disability, and the rate climbs to 50 percent for those 75 and older. The most common disability is difficulty walking, which affects 15.5 percent of those 65 to 74 and 32.7 percent of those 75 and older.

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