Voters casting ballots in March 2020 at the Chicago Public Library’s Little Village branch. That’s among the 36% of Chicago’s 900 polling places that are fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards, according to data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Voters casting ballots in March 2020 at the Chicago Public Library’s Little Village branch. That’s among the 36% of Chicago’s 900 polling places that are fully compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards, according to data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Marc C. Monaghan / WBEZ

About 2 of every 3 Chicago polling places aren’t fully accessible for people with disabilities

That’s according to a WBEZ analysis of new data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, which has posted accessibility ratings for each poll.

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Elections officials are making progress in providing fully accessible polling places throughout the city, but many Chicagoans with disabilities will still face barriers at their polling places when they vote Tuesday.

About one-third of the city’s election day polling places are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, according to new data.

A WBEZ analysis of new polling place accessibility ratings from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners shows wide geographic disparities in access to ADA-compliant polling places.

In some wards, more than half of polling places fully meet ADA standards. In other wards, fewer than 20% of polling places are fully compliant. Voters in the 33rd Ward on the Northwest Side have just one fully accessible polling place.

Ahead of Tuesday’s city election, polling places were rated “high,” “medium” or “low or no” regarding accessibility as part of an effort to survey the accessibility of more than 900 Chicago polling places.

The full list can be found on the board of elections website here.

Here’s what the ratings mean:

  • High — Voter-used areas are fully compliant with all ADA standards for accessible design.
  • Medium — Voter-used areas do not have steps but have another obstacle that would impede some voters with mobility impairments — such as a sloped corridor that might be too steep for some or a doorway that’s shy of the minimum width.
  • Low or no — Voter-used areas have at least one feature substantially out of compliance with ADA standards that’s likely to exclude many people with mobility impairments — such as one or more steps, ramps with excessive slopes or doorways that are too narrow.
  • Unknown — The board doesn’t have enough information to determine ADA compliance.

About 36% of polling places in Chicago are rated “high” accessibility, 20% “medium,” 27% “low or no” accessibility, 5% not fully surveyed but known to have no steps and 12% not fully surveyed, according to a WBEZ analysis of Chicago Board of Election Commissioners data.

The new ratings are intended to provide more detail for people with disabilities to make informed decisions about polling place accessibility, said Bebe Novich, a senior attorney with the organization Equip for Equality, an elections board contractor that’s leading the survey efforts.

“This is a temporary system to classify the accessibility of polling places until we reach 100% ADA compliance for all voting sites in Chicago,” said Max Bever, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Under a 2017 settlement with the Justice Department, the elections board must make all voting sites ADA compliant by November 2024. The board blew its previous deadline, of November, which was a four-year extension of the original November 2018 deadline.

ADA noncompliance appeared to be a citywide issue under the old ratings system that saw polling places deemed “accessible” or “inaccessible.” During the November midterm elections, more than 90% of polling places in Chicago were classified as “inaccessible.”

While more complete survey information and additional progress paint a rosier picture than last year, accessibility ratings differ greatly from ward to ward.

The 27th Ward, which covers parts of the Near West Side, has 14 ADA-compliant polling places — the most of any ward.

The 43rd Ward, which covers parts of Lincoln Park, is next highest, with 13 ADA-compliant polling places. Nearly 70% of polling places in the 43rd Ward are fully accessible to people with disabilities — the highest percentage of any ward.

Fewer than 12% of polling places in both the 27th Ward and 43rd Ward are rated “low or no” accessibility.

The 33rd Ward, which includes parts of Albany Park and Irving Park, has only one ADA-accessible polling place. Half of polling places in that ward are rated “low or no” for accessibility.

The median number of ADA-accessible polling places in all wards is six, the WBEZ analysis found.

In the 37th Ward, which covers parts of Austin and Humboldt Park, just 8% of polling places are fully compliant. Roughly two-thirds of its polling places in that ward are rated “low or no” for accessibility.

“Neighborhoods that are showing high lack of accessibility are also some of our neighborhoods that have some of your most disenfranchised individuals socioeconomically, poor transportation options, et cetera,” said Robin Jones, director of Great Lakes ADA Center, a federally funded organization that provides education and training on ADA compliance.

Novich said the disparity might be explained by the age of buildings housing polling places: Those built before ADA standards were established are likely to be less compliant.

“If there’s a disparity in the age of buildings, which there likely is in different neighborhoods in the city, that’s bound to be reflected in polling places, too, in when they were built [and] how much money has gone into fixing them up over time,” Novich said.

Bever acknowledged the geographic disparity and said there was no prioritization of resources based on location but said the elections board focused remediation on publicly owned facilities such as public schools and Chicago Park District buildings.

Chicago Public Schools buildings and park district fieldhouses make up roughly half of all polling places in Chicago. Most of those polling places aren’t fully ADA compliant and are among the least accessible buildings used for voting, WBEZ found.

Those are public spaces that should be ADA accessible, Jones said.

“It’s something that both private and public buildings should be much farther along [with] at this point, but it is still a challenge in the city of Chicago to find a place that the public can enter that is fully ADA compliant and accessible,” Bever said.

He said the elections board doesn’t own any property, so it’s up to building owners to fund and make upgrades.

“We know there’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s a lot of partners and a lot of government agencies and a lot of people that need to be part of this process and continue to be a part of this process,” Bever said.

People with also can vote at one of the 50 early voting sites, Bever said, and curbside voting is available on request prior to 5 p.m. on Feb. 27. All early voting sites are rated “high” for accessibility and open on Election Day to all voters, no matter where they live.

Even though there are alternatives, Jones said it’s important that voters with disabilities have the option to vote at their precinct’s polling place.

“People with disabilities should be given the same opportunity to exercise their voting rights as people without disabilities,” Jones said.

FOR QUESTIONS ON POLLS’ ACCESSIBILITY

FOR QUESTIONS ON POLLS’ ACCESSIBILITY


Voters can call the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners at (312) 269-7976 or email cboe@chicagoelections.gov on questions about polling place accessibility.


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