Problem: Disabled residents often find it difficult to vote.
Solution: El Paso County, Colo. teamed up with The Independence Center, a local nonprofit, opening as a voting service and polling center during elections.
El Paso County, Colo. established a highly accessible polling place for the 2016 presidential election through a partnership with the Independence Center, a local non-profit that serves individuals with disabilities.
The idea bubbled up from the county’s election judges, who help voters during elections. They had asked questions about how to best help the disabled who are voting, said Chuck Broerman, county clerk and recorder for El Paso County, Colo.
Angie Leath, director of elections in the county, said they met with several groups, looking for a community partner to expand their efforts. “The Independence Center was very willing to help us out, not only training our judges but offering their facility for voting,” she said. The center is located on a bus line for the disabled.
The center’s building offers features to help the disabled maneuver easier, with wider hallways and doors, contrasting tile colors to help guide them and acoustic paneling to reduce background noise for those who are hearing-impaired. Desk stations where the voting equipment is located on Election Day can be raised or lowered and some have wider bases so wheelchairs can be comfortably wheeled beneath them.
The election office held an open house at the center for the disability community several months before the 2016 presidential election for a dry run. They invited the media and tested the equipment. The center created flyers to help get the word out. “There were formalized ways we reached out but there’s an informal network too,” Broerman said.
The county got some feedback after the open house to see how intuitive it was for the disabled to vote there. “We decided to expand it from one room into two rooms because our voting equipment took up a little more space,” Leath said. Also in preparation for the election, the county created a video presentation in American Sign Language about what was on the ballot, posting it on their website and on YouTube.
The center prepared election judges by giving a free one-hour presentation on everything from etiquette to how to interact with voters to what is politically correct to say.
In all, 454 residents came to the facility to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Some used paper ballots and others used voting machines.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm generated — they saw the benefits, we saw the benefits,” Broerman said. “It’s a win-win for everyone in the disability community and for the volunteers who engage in the disability community.”
Advice for other counties? “We first reached out to our community groups,” Leath said. “We got lucky, because we have the Independence Center here, who we were able to partner with.”
“Those resources more than likely exist in their community — it’s just about making that contact,” Broerman said. “They are enthusiastic about being brought into the process. Most counties do not have to reinvent the wheel. It’s just about making that initial contact and going forward.”