Iowa counties will receive grants using federal dollars to help improve accessibility of polling places. (Photo by Jim Obradovich for Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Every county in Iowa will receive $1,000 to improve the accessibility of polling locations to ensure all Iowans with disabilities can vote in the November election, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announced Friday.
Pate said the grants are intended to foster a partnership between local governments and advocacy programs to assess how voting sites can become more accessible. In addition to improving accessibility, counties can use the money for staff to take communication, etiquette and sensitivity training.
The grants are funded through the federal Help America Vote Act. The legislation set new minimum requirements for states in election administration. Counties’ requests for grants will be processed immediately, and counties should receive the funds within seven to 10 days of signing up, Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said.
“I want all voters to have a positive experience,” Pate said in a news release. “Every polling place is required to be accessible, but we need to move past simple compliance. Inclusion begins in the planning stages and providing county auditors with the resources to work with local organizations to improve access will make sure every Iowan can easily navigate their polling place on Election Day.”
Federal laws such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensure all public entities, such as polling locations, provide an equal opportunity to access regardless of disabilities.
Roughly 300,000 Iowans have a disability, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Hall said sometimes people with disabilities and advocacy groups can identify needed improvements that election officials might not see, and this grant is another step toward improving voting for all.
“For veterans, not all disabilities are visible,” Hall said. “Some people may be dealing with, say, PTSD, and so entering a polling place might present a different kind of challenge. It applies to anybody with a disability.”
Hall said ensuring accessible polling locations was one of Pate’s goals after being elected. Over the years, his office has worked with the Iowa Disabilities Council and Disabilities Rights Iowa to make sure people with disabilities can vote with ease.
The deadline for the grant is Aug. 31, and all projects must be completed by the November 2022 general elections. The Secretary of State’s Office already provides polling locations with Voting Accessibility Quick Check booklets to help poll workers improve access.
“It is important auditors take into account what the disability community sees and how they feel,” Hall said. “We want to make sure everybody is comfortable when they come into a polling place to cast their ballot. That’s really what this is about, is having a different set of eyes from the perspective of someone who has a disability and to help them overcome any challenges they might have to casting their ballot.”
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