MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City's Board of Elections cannot call off monitors to inspect poll sites to make sure that they are accessible for the disabled, the 2nd Circuit ruled, upholding a federal court order.
In a 2010 lawsuit, the nonprofit groups Disabled in Action and the United Spinal Association claimed that widespread barriers to access at New York City polling sites violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Survey data showed that 80 percent or more of the sites contained at least one physical barrier to access, including ramps, blocked entryways, pathways, interior spaces at poll sites, and missing or misplaced signs, the advocacy groups said.
Bay Ridge resident Denise McQuade, a wheelchair user, testified that the ramp she encountered at her poll site during the September 2010 election was "extremely steep - like a ski slope."
Legally blind voter Paula Wolff told the court that she could not vote in the November 2011 election because the ballot marking device at her polling station, Selis Manor, was broken.
Roughly 90 percent of Selis Manor residents are blind, she said.
Justice Department attorneys, appearing as friends of the court, proposed a remedial order based on a plan that helped improve election accessibility in Philadelphia.
In late 2012, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts adopted an order based on that plan, calling for monitors to visit each site twice during election days, help poll workers fix any barriers and document the results. The order also called for appointment of a third-party expert to make recommendations to improve accessibility over the long term.
Last week, a three-judge appellate panel rejected the city's bid to alter that order.
"We conclude that the district court correctly held that BOE has failed to grant voters with disabilities meaningful access to its voting program," U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote in a 43-page opinion. "We also find that the remedial order is a proper exercise of the district court's authority to grant equitable relief."
The United Spinal Association's vice president James Weisman wrote in a statement that he was "very pleased that the court has recognized how important it is for persons with disabilities to be able to exercise the fundamental right to vote."
"This decision will finally give New Yorkers with disabilities the opportunity to vote at their poll sites just like nondisabled voters," he added.
The New York City Law Department said it is reviewing the decision.