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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Negotiators agree on bill to make voting sites accessible to disabled Kansans

March 31, 2004

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— A bill intended to make all polling places accessible to the disabled emerged Tuesday from legislative negotiations, pleasing activists who say Kansas' current law fails to ensure all citizens' right to vote.

A 1977 state law allows for inaccessible polling places if there are plans to improve them "in the foreseeable future" and if county election officials report the problem to county commissioners.

This year's bill would require that all polling places be accessible on Election Day and would allow so-called curbside voting, with a ballot carried to a disabled person who is outside a polling place. Kansas has 2,400 polling places.

Approval of the negotiated bill by both chambers would send it to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who supports it, according to a spokeswoman.

Michael Donnelly, an official of Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services Inc., which represents the disabled, called the bill "a big step forward."

"What it's about is setting a policy that's clear to every county elections official," Donnelly said.

Some legislators had said the bill might cause some counties to close some polling places because of the cost of making them accessible.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh was criticized by advocates for disabled Kansans earlier this year when he said the federal government's 2002 Help America Vote Act could result in polling places being closed. That law also requires polling places to be accessible.

But on Tuesday, Thornburgh praised the negotiators' work, saying it cleaned up an outdated law. He said a review by county election officials of accessibility at all polling places will likely be finished next month.

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Voting accessibility is House Sub for SB 166.

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