March 26, 2009 The Virgin Islands has made great strides in making voting accessible to all registered voters, but there's more that can be done, according to a Port General Election report issued Thursday by the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands.
The report looked at the 2008 general election and was compiled to ensure voters with disabilities in the Virgin Islands have accessibility in voting pursuant to the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
The report was prepared at the request of the V.I. Election System in its ongoing effort to ensure compliance with the act.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 seeks to secure election access for a wide range of people with disabilities pursuant to Congress' mandate to ensure the full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities including registering to vote, casting a vote and accessing polling places.
We set out aggressively in 2002 to accomplish the task to meet mandates, said John Abramson, supervisor of elections.
In a 2003 plan, the V.I. Election set a goal for a more inclusive voting process for people with disabilities.
The plan is to cover 100 percent of the people with disabilities, Abramson said.
The election system planned three phases to comply with the act. The first phase was an assessment of physical structures at polling places such as ramps, signage and entrances. The next phase was the human factor. There should be enough workers at the polls who are knowledgeable about voting machines that are equipped with a series of mechanisms for the disabled. They should also be able to assist the voters when needed. The third phase is reaching the people in long term care facilities.
Going through these phases is on going, said Corinne Plaskett, deputy supervisor elections. Work will continue to make voting better.
The Disability Rights Center conducted a series of on-site visits to polling places on St. Croix and St. Thomas on election day Nov. 4, 2008, to see if the plans are being met. The report summarized the perspectives of five individuals.
According to the report, accomplishments include:
— The purchase of adaptive voting machines that can be lowered for those in wheelchairs and with audio or Braille equipment.
— Training of poll workers on the equipment and training events for voters on how to use the equipment.
— Ongoing efforts to build skills of poll workers in assisting voters with disabilities and making absentee ballot voting available.
Improvements recommended by the report were:
— Provide more directional signage at polls and institute curbside voting and mobile voting stations.
— More effort to ensure architectural and safety barriers that have been identified are removed.
— Conduct more electronic ballot demonstrations at places such as longterm care facilities.
— Provide more sensitivity training for workers.
I absolutely feel we are meeting plans and goals, said Amelia Headley Lamont, executive director at the Disability Rights Center. She added the recommendations are very easy fixes.
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