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Polling spots might be moved over Americans with Disabilities Act compliance

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/30/19

Only about a dozen of the 150 polling locations in Dauphin County recently were found compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and polls in Middletown, Lower Swatara Township, Londonderry …

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Polling spots might be moved over Americans with Disabilities Act compliance

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Only about a dozen of the 150 polling locations in Dauphin County recently were found compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and polls in Middletown, Lower Swatara Township, Londonderry Township and Royalton were deemed non-compliant.

The county has changed some locations for the Nov. 5 election. The only change in the Middletown area is the 1st Precinct in Londonderry Township, moving to Living Hope Church, 3030 Schoolhouse Road, from Middletown Anglers and Hunters Association.

The others moved for Tuesday  include seven in Harrisburg and one in Swatara Township.

Some issues could be resolved with temporary fixes, such as marking ADA parking spaces with cones.

According to Dauphin County Director of Elections and Voter Registration Gerald D. Feaser Jr., it would cost about $110,000 to stay in all the locations and bring them into compliance.

“Some of the challenges that I’ve seen in this process is attempting to address a noncompliant place that for every other purpose is perfect for the voters in that area — it’s easy to walk to, it’s easy to access, and we’ve never had one complaint about. But because it does not meet the ADA compliance and it would be too costly to bring into compliance, we’re being forced to move,” Feaser said.

He doesn’t recall receiving any ADA complaints about locations in Middletown, Lower Swatara, Londonderry or Royalton.

“We’d like to have it all addressed as soon as practical,” Feaser said.

According to Feaser, in 2015, the Department of Justice sent staff to look at ADA compliance at polling locations.

The DOJ visited 52 polling locations before, during and after the May 2015 primary, primarily in the southern part of the county.

Of the 52 surveyed, 50 failed; 16 locations of the 50 couldn’t be fixed with temporary measures such as placing cones to mark parking areas or signs to prevent someone from running into a fire hydrant or a water fountain that protruded from the wall.

Because the county was found to be not in compliance, all 150 of the polling locations had to be surveyed to identify what to do to bring them into compliance.

Surveying was done last year, and Feaser said the county received the final report this year. The county has until March to survey the remaining locations.

Around a dozen polling locations passed.

“When all is said and done, we will probably move about 50 polling places,” Feaser said.

Some election districts were combined, such as in Steelton. Six precincts were combined into four.

If the county doesn’t do its due diligence, Feaser said the Department of Justice could take the county to federal court.

Lower Swatara discussions

During an Aug. 21 Board of Commissioners meeting, Lower Swatara Township manager Betsy McBride announced that they had received a letter from the election board which she said questioned disability access for voting in the municipal building.

“Apparently our parking out front where it’s handicapped is on a slight angle, which is not acceptable. It should be completely flat,” she said.

The county, she said, suggested using the garage behind the municipal building.

“I have real mixed emotions about letting people go into a garage to vote,” McBride said, adding that she would give commissioners more information in the future.

The township’s 2nd Precinct votes at the municipal building. The 1st and 4th Precincts are combined at the Lower Swatara Township Fire House, and the 3rd is at the Church of the Nazarene.

Commissioner Chris DeHart suggested moving the poll to the firehouse.

“Maybe public works can rip out the curbing and just make it flat,” President Jon Wilt said.

McBride responded that almost all of the pavement would have to be flattened.

Londonderry Township

The 2nd Precinct was moved to the Londonderry Fire Company, 2655 Foxianna Road, for last November’s election. It was at the township municipal building.

Feaser said it was moved because the firehouse has more parking and people were working in the municipal building on Election Day.

At Hunters and Anglers (former 1st Precinct location) and Grace Chapel Church (3rd Precinct), the issue was the slope for the van-accessible parking spot. Grace Chapel Church is still in use.

Middletown

The municipal building was one polling location surveyed by the Department of Justice. The county was told the slope of the ramp exceeded 1 inch for every 12 inches in length and it didn’t have handrails that meet the requirements.

Feaser said they decided to move it to St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. The church was also surveyed, and had issues, although less than reconstructing a handrail. According to Feaser, the sign for handicapped parking doesn’t say, “Van Accessible.” The doors are too heavy, and a bell — akin to a doorbell — would be placed outside the door which rings a bell inside the polling room, alerting the poll workers that someone needs assistance. This bell is referred to as a ballot call.

Adjustments have been made to polling locations at Frey Village and Lyall J. Fink Elementary School, where Middletown 3rd Ward, 1st precinct, and 2nd Ward, 2nd Precinct, respectively, vote.

Necessary equipment has been purchased for Fink. Recommendations were to adjust the tension on an entry door, lay a mat over cracking on the sidewalk, and add signs that specify van accessibility.

Issues have been resolved at Frey Village, where 3rd Ward, 1st Precinct votes. The parking spaces nearest to the entrance are assigned, and the closest ADA parking is in one of the lots. A temporary ADA spot will be set up in the fire lane near the sliding doors.

• At the Rescue Fireman’s Home Association on South Union Street, where the 1st Ward, 1st Precinct votes, parking could be moved inside the large garage bay because of the slope on the street.

• 2nd Ward, 1st Precinct votes at Middletown Presbyterian Church. Temporary recommendations include marking a handicapped parking area with cones and signs; adding a small threshold ramp and rubber mat for mobility issues; and adding a ballot call.

• Liberty Fire Company on Adelia Street, which serves the 3rd Ward, 2nd Precinct, needs two 1-inch lips and rubber thresholds.

Lower Swatara

• Lower Swatara Township Precincts 1 and 4 vote at the firehouse. There were minor issues, including the door being too heavy. A ballot call will need to be added on the day of the election if the weight of the door can’t be adjusted.

• Precinct 3 votes at the Church of the Nazarene. Some of the issues include slope in the parking lot, the door handle not being compliant and the ramp leading up to the door isn’t level. An 8-foot ramp would have to be laid on top of the existing one.

Royalton

• The 2nd Ward votes at the borough building; it requires ADA-compliant parking in the front, and the addition of signs and a ballot call to become ADA-compliant.

• At District Judge David Judy’s office, where the 1st Ward votes, the recommendation is to move Election Day parking.