More than 21% of registered voters went to the polls for Tuesday’s presidential preference primary.
Things went smoothly for the vast majority of the 11,146 voters who filled in ovals for presidential candidates representing one of five political parties. However, a few Buchanan County residents experienced difficulty accessing the voting booths at one precinct: Brookdale Presbyterian Church on South 31st Street.
At least two voters contacted the News-Press on election day to voice concern about access at the Brookdale precinct, where voting booths were moved to a lower floor. An older man said it was difficult to walk down the stairs leading to this lower floor, while a younger person with a physical disability gave up rather than attempt to navigate the stairs in order to cast a ballot.
It’s not a problem that threw off the results. Democrat Joe Biden claimed 58% support in Buchanan County, while Republican Donald Trump faced no credible opposition and won by an even larger margin.
But this was not a movie theater or a sports stadium, two public venues that require accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It was an election, meaning that every eligible person deserves unfettered access to cast a ballot with as little hassle as possible. The standard is higher, if not in the law, then at least in spirit.
It is not acceptable, and we’re glad that Buchanan County’s chief election official feels that same way. “What they did was set us up in the gym,” said Buchanan County Clerk Mary Baack-Garvey. “We are usually upstairs. By the time we found out about it, it was too late.”
By law, every voting place has to be handicapped accessible. Baack-Garvey said the downstairs voting site met that standard at the Brookdale precinct, but that access was not clearly visible and not marked with signage. So at least two voters thought it was the stairs or nothing.
For those who do face mobility issues, there are other options. They could vote absentee, either at the Buchanan County Courthouse or by mail. Information is available through the clerk’s office, 816-271-1412.
For those who don’t take action before election day, ballots will sometimes be brought to a person who has physical difficulty at a polling site, Baack-Garvey said
Those are good solutions, but human nature being what it is, some with disabilities or mobility issues will show up at the polling station expecting to exercise the the right to vote. They are correct. Especially as society ages and more elderly voters require accommodation, it becomes the county’s responsibility to make sure this confusion on election day remains an anomaly and not the norm.