THE RIGHT TO VOTE
We can't allow polling places to have physical access barriers
Blog 22, September 2023
Millions of Americans will be heading to the polls in November. The sad truth is that thousands of these voters might encounter physical barriers to entering their polling places.
Protecting the right to vote – for everyone – is essential to American democracy. That means making all polling places accessible to voters with physical disabilities. This is a voting population that can face real obstacles that can make it difficult to vote in person. Even worse, when confronted with access shortcomings, local elections officials sometimes even close polling places instead of making simple upgrades to become ADA compliant. It doesn’t have to be this way, and compliance is often easier (and more affordable) than people realize.
We’ve previously mentioned a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) special publication that addressed voting access for citizens with disabilities. The barriers to voting that were called out included doorways too narrow for wheelchairs and doors that are too heavy to be opened by voters with disabilities.
Obviously, automatic doors are a safe and effective solution for both. And a polling place might even be eligible for grants or tax credits that can offset the costs of modifications to make a polling place accessible to voters with physical limitations.
The federal government and some states provide grants specifically for the purpose of helping businesses or government entities comply with the ADA’s physical accessibility requirements. They often do not have to be repaid. A listing of available grants can be found here: https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/home.html.
If you are just entering the realm of grants and government funding, it can feel overwhelming trying to find the right program for you or your organization. The grants.gov website is full of resources to help you get started and navigate the intricacies of the grant-application process.
For an overview of the general types of grants available, visit:
Details on the types of entities eligible for grants can be found here:
A short summary of federal grants and the grant lifecycle is provided here:
There also are federal tax incentive programs available to businesses considering alterations to improve physical accessibility. The Disabled Access Credit can help small businesses offset ADA-related eligible access expenditures. Businesses can take the credit for the removal of barriers to people with disabilities and the acquisition or modification of equipment or devices for individuals with disabilities, among other provisions.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, Section 190, a business of any size can take a tax deduction for the costs associated with the removal of architectural or transportation barriers. In addition, any business can take a business expense deduction of up to $15,000 per year for costs of removing barriers in facilities or vehicles. Both incentives can be used together for qualifying expenditures by eligible businesses.
There’s never a reason for access barriers to prevent someone with a disability from voting. We encourage all local boards of election to review their polling places and make remedies and accommodations as needed.