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Feds Claim Harris County Discriminating Against Voters With Disabilities

The Federal government claims Harris County is discriminating against voters with disabilities. The Justice Department surveyed voting locations during two special elections.

The Federal government filed suit against Harris County claiming it’s failing to provide accessible polling places for voters with disabilities. The Justice Department surveyed voting locations during two elections: a 2013 State Senate special election and a 2016 State House special election.

In the January 2013 special election to fill the vacant State Senate seat of Mario Gallegos in District 6, the DOJ surveyed 86 polling places. They concluded that five locations were inaccessible and could not be made accessible, and 49 locations were inaccessible but could be made accessible with modifications. The Justice Department looked at off-street parking, the rout from the parking lot to the voting facility, the entrance to the facility, access to the voting location and the actual voting space.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

In September of 2014, the government sent their findings to Harris County Clerk and chief election official Stan Stanart. He says he doesn’t understand why the Government is suing. “The DOJ had approved these polling locations previously to 2013,” he says.

Stanart also says the County addressed every concern. “We sent back to them a very detailed response to every location. It’s a pretty long document, thirty pages long that detailed our response to every one of the locations.” 

In May of 2016, the Feds surveyed a State House special election in District 139. According to the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas:

“The United States investigated the County’s 32 Election Day polling places, and found that most of the polling places surveyed had architectural barriers to people with disabilities, including, for example, steep curb ramps and ramps, gaps in sidewalks and walkways, and locked gates along the route barring pedestrian access.”

Stanart says many of the claims are made in error or are trivial. “A handicap parking space that has the van accessible but doesn’t have the van accessible sign up. Our County Admin. building where we have early voting at, they said it doesn’t have an accessible door. They went in the back door.”

If there are actual problems for voters with disabilities, University of Houston Law Center professor Peter Linzer doesn’t understand why the government waited so long to file suit.

“It’s not like a statute of limitations has run or anything like that, but they’re not going to get the result in time for Election Day,” Linzer said.

The lawsuit is asking the County to develop a plan to remedy the demonstrated violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 within 30 days.

Stanart claims neither the Justice Department nor the County has received any complaints of ADA violations.

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