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July 22, 2016

Survey finds Fauquier polling places violate ADA

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The U.S. Attorney’s Office team cited deficiencies at The Plains precinct (Grace Episcopal Church) and 11 other Fauquier polling places.
You had a lot of fun running around buildings, but you didn’t ask where people vote.
— Bob Zwick, county electoral board secretary
Polling Places Study
• What: Nine-page survey to determine American with Disabilities Act compliance for 15 of 21 Fauquier polling places

• Who: United State’s Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia

• When: Office surveyed polls Oct. 26 and Election Day, Nov. 3, 2015

• Key findings: 12 of polling places surveyed violate ADA; violations include ramps, handrails, parking, access, signs; two of these polls no longer in use

• Upshot: County officials say some violations do not apply to voting areas; others require simple fixes; structural improvements cannot be made by Election Day

• Next: County officials will work with U.S. Attorney’s Office and architect to address violations
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Nearly half of Fauquier’s 21 polling places violate the American with Disabilities Act, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

But, to hear Fauquier Registrar Alex Ables tell it, most of the infractions affecting 10 polling places seem minor and would interfere with nobody’s ability to vote on Nov. 8.

“They’re as simple as signs slightly out of whack, door hardware (needing replacement), hand rails being at the appropriate height,” Mr. Ables said of the nine-page survey’s findings. “It’s not that people have to climb stairs because there isn’t a ramp. Nothing earthshaking.”

County electoral board Secretary Bob Zwick agrees.

“It’s a lot of little things,” said Mr. Zwick, whose three-member board oversees elections and maintains voter registration lists. “Signage was an issue — directional signs, the International Symbol of Accessibility. If they want a sign that says ‘Van Accessible,’ we’ll spend the 10 bucks to get a sign.”

A sidewalk serving an entrance to Kettle Run High School near New Baltimore, which houses the Kettle Run polling place, lacks a curb cut, according to the study.

“I find it hard to believe we built a modern school without a curb ramp,” Mr. Zwick said. “If we did, we did,” and it would need correction.

Other issues include steep ramps, parking access, doorway areas that lack adequate space for wheelchair-bound voters to maneuver, thumb latches on doors to polling places that would need replacement with more easily grasped handles.

As part of nationwide program to determine whether polling places comply with ADA access requirements, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia randomly selected Fauquier for review, Mr. Ables said.

“This was not a result of any complaint filed,” Mr. Ables said.

Twice last fall, a three-member team from the U.S. Attorney’s Office visited Fauquier to inspect 15 of the county’s 21 polling places.

The team arrived Oct. 26 to watch residents submit absentee ballots at the general registrar’s office at 32 Waterloo St. in Warrenton. The office recently moved to a much newer building at 528 Waterloo Road.

The team’s second visit took place Election Day, when it surveyed 14 other polling places across the county.

Of the 15 polling places evaluated, the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that seven precincts “were not accessible for use as polling places, and cannot be made accessible on Election Day through the use of temporary measures.”

> Reports embedded below story.

The other five “were not accessible for use as polling places, but had non-compliant elements that could be remedied with temporary measures,” making them accessible on Election Day.

Since getting the report, the registrar’s office has stopped using two problematic structures – the old general registrar’s office and the blizzard-damaged Marshall Ruritan Club at 8400 Salem Ave.

Mr. Zwick remains skeptical of the survey results because he believes the inspection team considered access issues for entire buildings, even though voters don’t use some areas and entrances deemed inadequate.

He said the electoral board offered to accompany the survey team on its tours of polling places.

“They didn’t want us,” he said. “They wanted to do it on their own.”

As a result, “you had a lot of fun running around buildings, but you didn’t ask where people vote,” Mr. Zwick said.

Fauquier received the U.S. Attorney’s Office study early this month, “which is way too late to anything” to address the shortcomings or relocate polling places, Mr. Ables said.

With the Election Day about 3-1/2 months away, “I don’t think anyone’s expecting (improvements) to be done” by Nov. 8, said Mr. Zwick. “We’ve got to go with what we have.”

Despite the survey’s findings, he believes no disabled voters will be inconvenienced on Election Day.

Friends or family bring disabled people to voting polls, said Mr. Zwick. For disabled people unable to leave vehicles, “we have the remedy of curbside voting. If you can’t come in, we’ll come to you.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help someone vote.”

County Attorney Kevin Burke said he has contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the study and that Fauquier plans hire an architect to “take a look at” the affected polling places.

DOJ July 5 2016 Letter by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Attachment B - Fauquier County Polling Places_temporary Remedies by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Attachment C - Fauquier County Polling Places_permanent Remedies by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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