BERNALILLO — The Sandoval County Commission unanimously voted to upgrade accessibility for voters with disabilities at polling areas in light of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month.
Robin Hammer, Sandoval County attorney, told the commission that the DOJ visited 26 of the county’s 48 polling places on June 7, 2016, and found 22 of them were not accessible to people with disabilities.
“According to (the DOJ), this was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Hammer said.
Of those 22 places, four require permanent repair, and all needed temporary improvements such as signs and cones.
The DOJ came back last April, she said, to provide assistance to the county about what could be done at these areas. Instead of litigating the issue, Hammer said, the DOJ would give the county three years to comply with its suggestions.
Hammer said in an email that the county was given the three-year timeline because this was how long the DOJ thought it would take for the county to comply with these issues.
Commission Chairman Dave Heil said an action plan is already in place to address the DOJ’s concerns.
Hammer confirmed that out of the 26 areas surveyed, seven are on pueblo land and three are on the Navajo Reservation.
“We are working with the tribes and pueblos,” Hammer said. “This is not just beneficial to the county on Election Day…but it also benefits those people who frequent those buildings the other 364 days of the year.”
Hammer verified that the pueblos are not required to meet ADA laws, but if a county building resides on its land, the county is responsible to meet those criteria.
“We are asking for cooperation from our neighbors that live on the pueblos, and they have been compliant,” she said.
A DOJ press release said that under the terms of the settlement agreement, Sandoval County will begin remediating its voting program in time for its next election.
To make selected polling places accessible, portable ramps, signage and propped-open doors will be provided for ADA residents, as will permanent changes such as paved parking and ramps, the release states.
In addition, the release said the county will train its poll workers on ADA requirements and how to use temporary measures to ensure each polling place is accessible during elections.
“This agreement reflects the department’s continued commitment, through its ADA Voting Initiative, to ensuring that every eligible voter with a disability has an equal opportunity to vote in person at his or her local polling place,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division in the release. “This fundamental right secures participation in our democracy and must not be diminished or restricted by barriers to access. We commend the county’s commitment to guaranteeing that eligible voters with disabilities have equal access to the polls.”
For more information, go to ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).