Richland County elections officials have agreed to make changes at more than four dozen polling places to avoid a federal lawsuit over accessibility for handicapped individuals.
The U.S. Justice Department announced the agreement Tuesday with the county Board of Elections and Voter Registration to ensure that every polling site is accessible to those with disabilities by the 2018 primary election.
In June 2016, federal officials said they reviewed 54 polling places in Richland County (roughly one-third of the total precincts in the county) and found 49 have architectural barriers that make them inaccessible to wheelchairs or voters with mobility impairments. The settlement said the barriers also presented difficulties for those with vision issues. The agency considered the polling areas to be substandard under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) requirements.
The county also agreed to provide training to all precinct coordinators on how to install and maintain any temporary equipment, such as wheelchair ramps, accessible parking or the placement of mats over thresholds.
“The right of individuals to participate in our democratic system of government includes full and equal access to polling sites,” Acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake said in a statement. “This agreement represents an important step toward guaranteeing voting access to all of our citizens.”
Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities from “discriminating” against people with disabilities by not having precincts that are accessible to wheelchairs or other impairments.