By James T. Madore
Newsday Staff Writer
May 6, 2006
Some disabled voters are alarmed by a new state plan they say calls for too few polling places where the disabled can vote without having to ask for help in this year's elections.
The state wants to outfit only one balloting site in each of New York City's five boroughs with handicapped-accessible voting machines and have less than two dozen of them on Long Island. So, people wanting to vote independently would have to travel far from their homes, and in the city, government officials don't intend to provide transportation.
A federal judge in Albany is expected Tuesday to consider the plan as part of settling a lawsuit brought against New York State for failure to comply with a 2002 federal election-reform law. That statute required states to provide accessible voting for the disabled at all polling places by last January.
Some levers on New York's old voting machines are beyond the reach of people in wheelchairs and the blind cannot read the ballot. They must rely on poll workers, but that means votes no longer are secret.
While dissatisfied with the state's attempt to accommodate some handicapped voters, Justice Department officials hope the judge will ratify the plan, calling it "better than nothing."
Disabled voters are incensed.
"I'm absolutely disgusted," said Pratik Patel, a CUNY administrator who is blind. "I almost feel [like] I am a second-class citizen in this country."
Patel and others predicted the polling stations equipped with handicapped-accessible voting machines would be overwhelmed, and voters would be turned away. "This isn't going to be workable," said Patel, 28, of Fresh Meadows, Queens.
New York City plans to have 20 to 30 machines split between the five special polling places - all located at Board of Elections offices.
Roughly 494,000 city residents are disabled and eligible to vote, according to Justice Department estimates. Voter turnout among the disabled is likely not to be that high, said Lee Daghlian of the state Board of Elections.
With just 18 weeks until the Sept. 12 primary, limiting the handicapped-accessible sites ensures poll workers know how to use the new voting machines and all ballots will be available, said city elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.
Nassau County will have 12 machines, one in each state Assembly district and Long Beach. Suffolk will have 11, two in Brookhaven and one each in the other towns. State records show both counties will provide transportation to the polls.
However, Nassau Democratic elections commissioner William Biamonte acknowledged the arrangement isn't satisfactory. He blamed federal officials for forcing the stopgap measure. "We should be working on 2007," he said, referring to the new deadline for full compliance with election rules. "This isn't helping the physically challenged community. We are accomplishing very little."
Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Inc.
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