Federal Court Orders NYC Board Of Elections To Adopt A Plan To Eliminate Voting Barriers For New Yorkers With Disabilities

New York, NY – October 19, 2012 – In a major victory late yesterday for New Yorkers with disabilities who use wheelchairs and scooters or have vision impairments, Federal Judge Deborah Batts ordered the Board of Elections (BOE) to adopt a barrier removal plan proven effective in eliminating barriers to voting at poll-sites for people with disabilities. With the 2012 Presidential Election only weeks away, people with disabilities are gratified with the court’s intervention, which will allow them to vote in the upcoming election at poll-sites alongside their neighbors and communities.

The court decision orders the BOE to adopt a plan proposed by plaintiffs and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). Similar plans have been successful in cities such as Philadelphia, which contains architectural barriers resulting from age and density of construction like those found in New York City (NYC). The plan requires the BOE to designate one Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) poll-site worker at every poll-site in NYC, who will be trained on poll-site accessibility by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY). The plan also requires the BOE to work with a third party voting access specialist to develop a plan to transition its polling sites to accessible facilities. Read the full details of the plan and the court’s decision at: dralegal.org.

The lawsuit, which seeks no damages, was filed in July of 2010 to address the widespread barriers throughout NYC’s poll-sites that disenfranchise people with disabilities from voting during elections.  United Spinal Association and Disabled In Action – two groups that work to ensure that people with disabilities are integrated into their communities and live as independently as possible, brought the lawsuit.  Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a non-profit law center that specializes in civil rights cases on behalf of persons with disabilities, the Law Office of Kevin Mintzer, and Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, represent the plaintiffs.

Judge Batt’s decision follows a report issued last month following NYC’s Primary Election, which showed that serious barriers remain, despite a court order that required the BOE to develop a plan to eliminate barriers to voting. The BOE implemented its barrier removal plan during the Primary Election targeting 40 of its most problematic poll-sites. However, of the 40 poll-sites surveyed, nearly 50 percent contained barriers. The types of barriers identified were missing wheelchair ramps, blocked paths of travel for wheelchair and scooter users, and locked doors at accessible entrances.

ladder barrier at voter polling site
Photo of Voter Access Barrier taken during Primary Election

Ladder on ramp is blocking wheelchair accessible entrance
at a voter polling site in Brooklyn.

Extensive barriers found during the Primary Election are representative of widespread barriers throughout NYC’s poll-sites. Inspections of poll-sites over the past decade by CIDNY show that such barriers prevent people with disabilities from voting at poll-sites during elections.

Julia Pinover, DRA Staff Attorney commented: “The court decision marks a historic moment that truly opens up the fundamental right to vote for New Yorkers with disabilities and gives them the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Stuart Seaborn, DRA Staff Attorney commented: “We are pleased with the Judge’s decision, which puts an end to massive voter barriers that overwhelmingly exclude tens of thousands of people with disabilities from voting in elections.”


Julia Pinover, DRA Attorney, (212) 644-8644, jpinover@dralegal.org

Stuart Seaborn, DRA Attorney, (510) 665-8644, sseaborn@dralegal.org