Every Wisconsin voter has a right to cast a ballot privately and independently at their polling place on Election Day. In addition, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires that every polling place in the State of Wisconsin meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. Local election officials have a responsibility to guarantee that each of their polling places meets these standards and that all voters are provided with an equal opportunity to cast a ballot.
The G.A.B. conducts audits of polling places around the state for each election and works with municipalities to correct identified problems and improve accessibility. The results of those audits are reported to each municipality and a Plan of Action is required from the municipal clerk to address any concerns found during the audit. Municipal clerks are then able to request accessibility-related supplies from the G.A.B. to assist them with bringing their polling places into compliance.
The information gathered during polling place audits is analyzed and used to improve and update clerk and poll worker training materials and voter outreach information. This data is also used to inform the Wisconsin State Legislature about the barriers that citizens with disabilities face when voting.
Wisconsin election officials are given immense responsibility to ensure that elections are conducted in a fair and impartial manner while maintaining the integrity of the election process.
A key to developing and maintaining public trust is to make the election process accessible and transparent for all participants. This involves working with representative organizations and groups, providing assistance to eliminate physical barriers to the polling place, acquiring voting equipment that enables all citizens to cast an independent and private ballot in a dignified manner and providing information that enables all citizens to fully participate in the election process.
The Government Accountability Board and its staff seeks input from representative groups and organizations regarding how best to assist individuals with disabilities, and to collaborate on voter education projects and receive community feedback.
The Government Accountability Board welcomes comments and suggestions for helping to eliminate the barriers faced by Wisconsin’s citizens with disabilities. Citizens can reach the Board toll free by calling 866-VOTEWIS (866-868-3947). Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing or have difficulty in speaking may contact the Board by using the Wisconsin Telecommunications Relay System.
Director and General Counsel
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
The Government Accountability Board has recently partnered with the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition to create a training video for clerks and poll workers focused on accessible voting issues. The video features voters with disabilities, advocates and local election officials discussing their experiences with polling place accessibility. This 11 minute video can be used as part of a training program for poll workers in preparation for Election Day.
Accessible Voting Training Video: This is Where We Vote - 2014
If a voter cannot enter the absentee voting location or polling place due to disability, Wis. Stat. § 6.82(1) requires that curbside voting must be available. Two poll workers should bring a ballot to the individual needing assistance, and conduct voting at their vehicle, or at the polling place entrance. These voters are not required to sign the poll list. Instead, the poll workers should write “exempt by order of inspectors” in the signature space on the poll list. This incident should also be recorded on the Inspector’s Statement (GAB-104).
If curbside voters need to update their registration due to an address or name change or if they are not currently a registered voter, they may also register to vote curbside with a current and valid Proof of Residence. Curbside voting should also be available during the in-person absentee voting period. Persons who would like to vote curbside should be encouraged to contact their municipal clerk beforehand to discuss how to initiate the process upon arrival at the voting location.
The G.A.B. conducts audits of polling places during each election. Listed below are the most common accessibility problems identified as a result of those visits. Click on each item for details and photos of best practices and common problems associated with each problem.
- Required election notices are not always posted and those posted are not printed in 18-point font.
- Lack of accessible parking spaces and/or insufficient signage for accessible parking spaces.
- Insufficient signage for accessible entrances.
- Doors that require more than 8 lbs. of force to open.
- Gaps and uneven pavement in the pathway from the parking area to the accessible entrance.
- Lack of privacy for voters casting a paper ballot.
- Interior routes that had obstacles, were poorly lit, and/or were not clearly marked.
- Accessible voting equipment that was not functional or was not clearly available for voters to use.
- Doors that do not have lever door handles or an electronic feature such as an automatic opener, power-assist, or bell/buzzer.
- Pathways to the accessible entrance that were not clearly marked.
You can also download a guide to solving these common accessibility problems below.
|Top 10 Polling Place Accessibility Problems Explained.pdf||3.59 MB|
Polling places should be organized so that all voters can be processed efficiently and voters with disabilities can navigate the voting area and participate in the electoral process without assistance. The Polling Place Set-Up guide provides an overview of the accessibility standards that every polling place must meet.
It is important to note that polling place accessibility begins in the parking area and applies to any pathway or obstacle that a voter with a disability would have to navigate to gain access to the voting area. The voting area should be configured to allow passage throughout the space for a voter in a wheelchair and accessible voting booths and machines should both meet ADA standards and be positioned to ensure voter privacy.
Municipal clerks should use this guide to train their election inspectors before an election cycle on the guidelines for proper polling place organization. If an accessibility-related problem is identified on Election Day, the Quick Fix Guide can be used to create a sufficient temporary solution until the issue can be resolved permanently.
|Polling Place Set-up Guide.pdf||1.03 MB|
|Quick Fix Guide.pdf||37.81 KB|
|Election Day Accessibility Checklist.pdf||128.2 KB|
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) created a requirement that every polling place have accessible voting equipment available for each election. The State of Wisconsin used funds provided through HAVA to assist municipalities with purchasing accessible voting equipment. By 2006, every municipality in the state met this requirement and six accessible voting systems are currently in use statewide.
Assistance with Voting and Registering
Every polling place is also required to have an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant booth or table available for voters with disabilities who wish to cast a paper ballot. If a voter requires assistance marking their ballot on Election Day, they may take any person of their choosing, except their employer or a representative of their labor union, with them into the voting booth. A voter may require an assistor if they have problems reading or writing, have difficulty with the English language, or have a disability which prevents them from being able to mark the ballot. After the ballot has been marked, the assistor must then sign in the space provided on the back of the ballot. The name and address of the individual providing assistance will also be recorded on the voter list by the election inspectors. Assistors do not need to be qualified electors, and may include children who are minors or otherwise ineligible electors. An election inspector may also provide assistance to voters who request it. Providing guidance about how to properly mark a ballot is not “assistance”.
Voters can also request assistance with the accessible voting equipment. Please note that any person providing assistance with a direct-recording electronic accessible voting machine (Edge, iVotronic, or Accuvote) should position themselves behind the machine so that they cannot view the voter’s ballot choices. They are allowed to explain how the equipment works but cannot assist you with making your ballot choices.
Voters can also have an assistant when completing a voter registration application or absentee application. After completing the application, the assistor must then sign the form in the appropriate box and provide any additional required information. Explaining how to complete the form is not “assistance”. That voter would then be exempt from the poll book signing requirement.
Signing the Poll List
Since 2011, voters in Wisconsin are required to sign the poll list before receiving a ballot. Exemptions to this requirement are available for any voter who, for reason of physical disability, cannot sign the poll list. The election inspectors will write, “exempt by order of inspectors” in the signature line and issue the voter a ballot.
Common Courtesy When Interacting with Voters
Election inspectors should also take care to remain courteous when working with a voter with a disability or an elderly voter. These basic tips should also be followed so that all voters feel welcome at the polling place and have equal opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day:
- Be considerate of the extra time that it might take for a person with a disability or an elderly voter to complete a ballot, use the accessible voting equipment or fill out a voter registration form.
- Be patient and attentive with a person who has difficulty speaking.
- Communicate directly with the voter, rather than just to an assistor who may be accompanying the voter.
- Before pushing someone in a wheelchair, ask for permission from the individual.
|Poll Worker Common Sense and Common Courtesy.pdf||90.48 KB|
What to Expect During a Site Visit:
Auditors from G.A.B. will review five different areas of a facility that serves as a polling place: the parking area, the pathway from the parking area to the accessible entrance, the accessible entrance, any interior routes to the voting area and the voting area itself.
Upon arrival at your polling place, the auditor will first come into the polling place and introduce themselves to the Chief Inspector. They will be wearing a badge that identifies them as a representative of the G.A.B. and will present a letter of introduction to the Chief Inspector that should be kept as a record of the visit and placed with the other election materials for that day. They will then provide a brief explanation of the audit process:
- The municipality, clerk and poll workers are not in any trouble. The G.A.B. routinely sends out a team of auditors to monitor polling place accessibility for every election.
- The auditor will begin their survey in the parking area and work their way back inside to the voting area.
- The whole process should take between 20 and 60 minutes and should not interrupt the processing of voters at the polling place
- Photos may be taken to supplement the survey results. Auditors are instructed to ensure that no voters or ballots are photographed and that the process of taking photographs does not interfere with the orderly operation of the polling place.
- The Inspector’s Statement (GAB-104) will be reviewed and, if applicable, voting equipment security tamper evident seals on the accessible voting equipment and tabulator may need to be examined. For some tabulators, this may require unlocking panels on the machine so that tamper evident seal numbers can be verified.
- The auditors are not to sign in as observers. The site visit should be recorded on the incident log on the Inspector’s Statement/GAB-104, but the auditor is not an observer and is not restricted by rules regarding observer behavior at polling places.
- A report documenting any identified problems will be generated after each site visit and the municipal clerk will receive an email from the G.A.B. when the report is ready for viewing.
- Auditors will review each site to determine if all required notices have been posted and if they have been printed in at least 18 point sized font. A list of the required forms and notices can be found in the Election Day Manual.
G.A.B. Authority for Conducting Polling Place Accessibility Audits:
The Wisconsin state statutes require the G.A.B. to ensure that “the voting system used at each polling place will permit all individuals with disabilities to vote without the need for assistance and with the same degree of privacy that is accorded to nondisabled electors voting at the same polling place.” Federal requirements under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) also mandate that all voters are entitled to vote a ballot both privately and independently.
Wisconsin administrative code specifies that visitors to polling places who are there to ensure accessibility are not considered observers and are not restricted by the rules governing observer behavior. This rule also states that polling place auditors can take photos in the polling place.