United Spinal Association and Disabled in Action, plaintiffs on behalf of all New Yorkers of voting age with mobility and vision disabilities, won a unanimous panel decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that found the Board of Elections in New York City (BOE) discriminated against voters with disabilities by failing to make its poll sites accessible to voters with disabilities on Election Day.
Among other things, the Court found that “By designating inaccessible poll sites and failing to assure their accessibility through temporary equipment, procedures, and policies on election days, BOE denies plaintiffs meaningful access to its voting program.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order, which had found that the Board of Elections failed to remedy widespread barriers at its poll sites throughout the City on Election Day, including dangerous make-shift ramps, steps leading to poll sites, blocked paths of travel, and locked accessible entrances.
James Weisman, VP and General Counsel of Plaintiff United Spinal Association, praised the Court of Appeals’ decision, stating, “I am very pleased that the Court has recognized how important it is for persons with disabilities to be able to exercise the fundamental right to vote. This decision will finally give New Yorkers with disabilities the opportunity to vote at their poll sites just like non-disabled voters.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center with offices in California and New York City that specializes in high impact litigation on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Stuart Seaborn, DRA attorney, commented, “Voting at poll sites on Election Day is such a fundamental part of the civic experience for New Yorkers and we are thrilled that the Court of Appeals’ decision will open up this experience to voters with disabilities.”
The Court of Appeals also affirmed the remedial plan ordered by the trial court, which requires the Board of Elections to designate a disability-coordinator at each poll-site on Election Day and to work with an outside accessibility consultant to survey the approximately 1,300 polling sites in New York City, and remove access barriers where appropriate or identify alternate accessible locations to replace inaccessible poll sites.
The order was entered after the district court granted summary judgment to plaintiffs-appellees, finding that defendants-appellants had violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.