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Archive for Friday, January 23, 2004

Accessibility issues may close some Kansas voting sites

January 23, 2004

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— Kansans will have 300 fewer places to vote in 2006 than they did in 2002 because some polling locations do not meet federal requirements for handicapped accessibility, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said Thursday.

One rural Kansas senator said such requirements were making voting less accessible to many Kansans.

The state had about 2,400 polling places in 2002. Thornburgh said the number would decline to 2,100 in 2006 as the state tries to comply with a mandate in the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act to make sure every site has at least one voting machine designed specifically for the disabled.

After briefing the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee on the law and the state's attempts to comply, Thornburgh said the cost of making some polling places accessible to the handicapped was high enough that eliminating them was the best option.

"While access for people with disabilities is enhanced, accessibility for regular voters will decrease," he said.

Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley, said poll workers in rural areas had always accommodated handicapped voters, sometimes even allowing them to fill out their ballots in their cars.

Thornburgh said one goal of the federal law was to allow disabled citizens to cast secret ballots. Because disabled voters often required assistance, he said, the secrecy of their ballots could not be guaranteed.

The law promised states $3.9 billion over four years to replace outdated voting machines, including those inaccessible to the disabled, and improve voter education and poll-worker training.

On a related issue, Thornburgh said he and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius were close to reaching agreement on a bill making changes in state law necessary to bring Kansas into compliance with federal law.

Last year, legislators approved a proposal from Thornburgh to require all voters to show proof of identity when they vote or obtain advance ballots. Sebelius vetoed it, saying it went beyond federal requirements.

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