United Spinal Association, et al. v. Board of Elections (BOE)Landmark Decision By Federal Appellate Court Vindicates The Rights Of Voters With Disabilities In New York City
In 2010, DRA, United Spinal Association and Disabled in Action filed a lawsuit on behalf of all New Yorkers of voting age with mobility and vision disabilities, who face access barriers attempting to vote privately and independently at their designated polling sites in New York City year after year.
After more than four years of contested litigation and an appeal, a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the Board of Elections in New York City discriminated against voters with disabilities by failing to make its poll sites accessible on Election Day. The Court explained: “Here, the relevant benefit is the opportunity to fully participate in BOE’s voting program. This includes the option to cast a private ballot on election days. Indeed, to assume the benefit is anything less – such as merely the opportunity to vote at some time and in some way – would render meaningless the mandate that public entities may not “afford persons with disabilities services that are not equal to that afforded to others.” Among other things, the Court found that “By designating inaccessible poll sites and failing to assure their accessibility through temporary equipment, procedures, and policies on election days, BOE denies plaintiffs meaningful access to its voting program.”
The Court of Appeals also affirmed the remedial plan ordered by the trial court. The plan requires the Board of Elections to designate a disability coordinator at each poll site on Election Day, to work with an outside accessibility consultant to survey the approximately 1,300 polling sites in New York City, and to remove access barriers where appropriate or identify alternate accessible locations to replace inaccessible poll sites.
DRA continues its advocacy efforts to monitor the Board of Elections compliance with the Court’s Order.