August 3, 1998
Ms. Judy Steelman
State Board of Election Commissioners
State Capitol, Room 24
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Dear Ms. Steelman:
I am writing in response to your letters of July 14, 1997 and September 26, 1997, regarding accessibility of polling sites in the State of Arkansas. Please excuse our delay in responding.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) authorizes the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to individuals and entities having rights or obligations under the Act. This letter provides informal guidance to assist you in understanding the ADA's requirements. However, it does not constitute a legal interpretation or legal advice, and it is not binding on the Department.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability by State and local governments. Section 35.150 of the enclosed title II regulation requires that when viewed in their entirety, services, programs, and activities provided, in facilities existing on the effective date of the ADA, January 26, 1992, must be accessible to people with disabilities. The principal focus of the accessibility standard is access to services, programs, and activities, as opposed to access to physical structures. Therefore, existing polling sites are not necessarily required to be accessible, provided that alternative methods are effective in enabling individuals with disabilities to cast a ballot on the day of the election. For example, a policy of taking the ballot outside to a voter (i.e., curb-side voting) who is unable to enter the polling site is an acceptable method of providing program access. For those polling sites where the construction was commenced after January 26, 1992 (i.e., for new construction and alterations) the design, construction, or alteration of facilities must be in conformance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, 41 C.F.R. Pt. 101-19.6, Appendix. A, or the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, 28 C.F.R. Pt. 36, Appendix. A.
In the letter of July 14, 1997, you inquired whether "a person with a disability can be reassigned from an inaccessible polling site to an accessible polling site if it is within a reasonable distance." Your reassignment alternative is permissible under the ADA so long as the reassignment alternative is effective in providing a person with a disability the equal opportunity to cast a ballot on the day of the election. For example, in a State-wide election, having equal numbers of accessible and inaccessible polling sites that are dispersed appropriately throughout the State would meet the requirements of title II of the ADA, whereas having only a few accessible polling sites would not. Also, requiring a person with a disability to travel approximately the same distance as a person who is not disabled in a particular voting area would meet the requirements of title II; however, requiring a person with a disability to travel significantly more than a person who is not disabled would not meet the requirements of title II.
In the letter of September 26, 1997, you inquired whether a person with a disability can be required to provide 30 days notice (or any reasonable number) so that he or she can be reassigned from an inaccessible polling site to an accessible one. A 30-day advance request procedure for reassignments would not be prohibited by the ADA if use of the procedure is optional. However, a person with a disability may not be required to use this procedure. The county must still be prepared to accommodate a person with a disability at his or her assigned polling site on the day of the election. An advance notice requirement cannot be enforced to prevent him or her from casting a ballot. Therefore, in addition to your reassignment alternative, you may need another alternative method (e.g., curb-side voting) to ensure voting access for the situation described above.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
John L. Wodatch
Disability Rights Section
cc: Glen Hooks
Assistant Attorney General
State of Arkansas >