A judge who ruled last month that New York City polling places are not fit for the disabled asked lawyers Monday to provide fresh reports after primary elections this week.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts told lawyers she wants to know how voting goes Thursday at up to 40 of the city's most troubled polling sites as a way to gauge the city's plan to improve access for voters with disabilities.
Stephen Kitzinger, a city lawyer, outlined the plan at a court hearing Monday, saying coordinators at more than 1,300 polling sites will check periodically to ensure there are no problems. He said the coordinators will be responsible to ensure their sites are accessible to those in wheelchairs and scooters, and that workers are following the 20-step instructions they were given to ensure the Americans with Disabilities Act is followed. Each site also will have a 5-foot-long chain to make sure areas are wide enough for those who need more space.
Sid Wolinsky, a lawyer for several groups who sued in 2010 on behalf of the disabled, was skeptical that efforts by the city would succeed, saying it appeared the city was trying "a minor tweak to exactly what they've been doing before."
At times during the two-hour hearing, Batts seemed to share his viewpoint.
"Mr. Kitzinger, you are on automatic for 'no,'" she said at one point. "I am making a statement that your first reaction is: 'It can't be done.'"
In another moment, she said: "I agree part of the problem is everyone is responsible and no one is responsible."
But she seemed to warm to the city's views as the hearing proceeded and Kitzinger insisted that the city was serious about solving problems and listening to suggestions from groups representing the disabled.
Wolinsky said he thought the New York City Board of Elections was too busy with too many other things to care enough about the troubles of the city's disabled population.
The judge interrupted him, saying: "I don't get the impression the Board of Election shoves this like a stepchild into the corner."
Wolinsky said he was not suggesting there was malice involved, only that there were limits to what a bureaucracy could achieve on its own.
In August, Batts ruled in favor of two groups representing the disabled: the United Spinal Association and Disabled In Action. The judge said the groups had shown evidence that polling places were plagued with unsafe ramps, missing signage and obstacles such as furniture blocking access to voting booths. There are more than a half million noninstitutionalized people in New York City with disabilities or vision difficulty.