Poll Site Surveys
Ensuring Voter Access Locally
by Kelsey Loschke and Jamie Stewart, DRT Voting Advocates
Among the diverse legal and advocacy work at DRT is our Voting Rights Program. DRT’s voting program is funded through the Help America Vote Act to ensure that Tennesseans with disabilities have equal access to the voting process. Through this work, DRT seeks to educate election officials on the possible needs of voters with disabilities and educate Tennesseans with disabilities about their right to vote and to equal access to the voting process. DRT strives to address voter accessibility at all levels, including at local poll sites.
Since 2002, DRT has partnered with the Tennessee Secretary of State Division of Elections to conduct statewide poll site surveys during elections. During early voting periods and on Election Days, DRT staff travel across the state to survey poll sites to identify and address accessibility issues. When an accessibility concern is identified, we follow up with County Administrators of Elections to provide feedback and suggestions on how to make poll sites accessible for all Tennesseans.
So, how do we conduct surveys? DRT assesses two main aspects of the poll site - physical accessibility of the site and training of the poll site workers. DRT staff first look at the entire poll site’s physical space, including: parking area, route to the poll site, and the voting area. Since poll sites are set up during elections in pre-existing buildings, one poll site can look very different from another. If a poll site is located in a rural area that has few buildings available for use as a poll site, the poll site may be set up in a building that is not fully accessible. In these instances, DRT may suggest short-term solutions to a county, such as temporary accessible parking signs or ramps, to assist in making a poll site more accessible.
Surveyors also gauge the level of training of poll workers. DRT staff do this by observing poll site workers’ interactions with voters with disabilities and discussing the use of voting machines and accessibility features, such as magnifying sheets or glasses, reading glasses, communication boards and signature guides. Once the information is gathered about the sites’ accessibility, we share the information with the appropriate County’s Elections Administrator so they can make necessary improvements.
Poll site surveys are an important part of DRT’s Voting Program, but to ensure that county election administrators continue to recognize the importance of accessibility we, the disability community, need to get out the vote! You can support DRT in its work to make the election process accessible by registering to vote and by voting on your local election dates. Let’s show counties across the state that poll site access is an important issue to voters with disabilities!
If you find that your local poll site is inaccessible or experience other issues while there, please contact DRT at 1 (800) 342-1660.