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Equip for Equality Featured on Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s “Chicago vows to comply with federal law by 2018”

By Patricia Manson 
Law Bulletin staff writer

April 26, 2017

Chicago election officials have agreed to make all polling sites accessible to disabled people in time for the November 2018 election.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has been working with the U.S. Justice Department and Equip for Equality for 10 months to evaluate what needs to be done to ensure every voter who goes to the polls can cast a ballot, board spokesman James Allen said Tuesday.

He said the board will continue working with the federal government and Equip for Equality to put those measures in place.

“This has been a cooperative effort all the way through and we expect it to continue that way,” Allen said.

He said some polling places and early voting sites that failed to pass muster under standards that went into effect in 2016 need only minor changes.

Other sites may need to be moved if the required modifications are too extensive, Allen said.

Other parties assisting in the effort, he said, include city agencies and private building owners.

Aldermen and Democratic and Republican ward committeemen are also helping out, he said.

The settlement agreement announced last week between Chicago election officials and the Justice Department avoids the need for a lawsuit, the parties said in separate statements.

“The right of individuals to participate in our democratic system of government includes full and equal access to polling sites,” acting U.S. Attorney Joel R. Levin said in his statement. “This agreement represents an important step toward guaranteeing voting access to all of our citizens.”

Election Board Chairwoman Marisel A. Hernandez praised the work of Equip for Equality.

The advocacy organization recruited hundreds of attorneys to work on the project pro bono, she said.

“These ‘investigators’ completed training,” Hernandez said in her statement, “and were supplied with the tools to measure sidewalk cracks, curb cuts, ramp angles, interior and exterior doorway widths, the amount of pressure needed to open doors and other aspects of sites that might have one or more barriers that could impede the access for a blind voter or a voter in a wheelchair.”

Civil Rights Team Vice President Barry C. Taylor of Equip for Equality said the group is happy to help with the project.

“Equip for Equality is excited to work collaboratively with the Chicago board of elections and the Department of Justice to increase access for people with disabilities to polling places in Chicago,” Taylor said.

Both Illinois law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act require all polling places to be accessible to voters with disabilities.

In the spring of 2016, the Justice Department evaluated polling places and early voting sites around the country.

The department surveyed more than 100 sites in Chicago.

The department found that many sites in Chicago have architectural barriers that make them inaccessible to voters in wheelchairs or voters with other mobility problems as well as to voters with vision impairment.

The election board then retained Equip for Equality to evaluate another 1,000 sites.

The settlement agreement requires the election board to continue to work with Equip for Equality or another third party to inspect polling sites and determine if they need to be moved or modified.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick W. Johnson represents the federal government in the matter.

Last updated: April 27, 2017

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