Disability advocate: Jefferson Co. early voting site 'not ADA compliant'

An advocate with Disability Rights Arkansas told election commissioners on Monday, the early voting site set up inside the Jefferson County Courthouse is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo: Rev. Jesse Turner)

The early voting site set aside at the Jefferson County Courthouse is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Jefferson County election commissioners learned on Monday.

Mike Adam, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners, made it clear to those in attendance at an emergency board meeting on Monday afternoon, that the election commission has nothing to do with organizing early voting in the county. Adam mentioned early voting is the responsibility of the county clerk; the election commission only provides the voting machines.

The issue was initially brought up weeks ago by Rev. Jesse Turner with the group Pine Bluff Interested Citizens for Voter Registration. Turner previously told KATV, “when you have people in wheelchairs, it’s difficult to get them behind that voting machine for them to vote.”

Turner had invited a representative from Disability Rights Arkansas to view the small room next to the Quorum Court meeting room that had been designated to conduct early voting. Christian Adcock, advocate with Disability Rights Arkansas, had initially viewed the room empty with only a single voting machine in the room a few weeks ago.

Adcock said he could see where potential ADA violations could arise when he first saw the room, but said he couldn’t be sure if there were actual violations.

But when early voting got under way in Arkansas on Monday, Adcock went back to the room he had viewed just weeks ago. The small conference room had 12 voting machines - many people believing the room could really only fit about six machines.

"The way it is set up right now, it is currently not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Adcock.

"The problem right now is there’s simply too many machines for the size of the room."

Adcock made his observations known during the election commission’s emergency meeting. The remedy he explained seemed relatively simple - either remove some of the machines from the room or move the polling site to larger room inside the courthouse.

All three Jefferson County Election Commissioners voted unanimously to send correspondence to the county attorney to forward onto County Clerk Patricia Johnson.

Commissioner Cynthia Sims, the election commission’s sole democrat, reminded the board that they had previously said that they wouldn’t speak directly with Johnson, rather communicating through County Attorney Jackie Harris. Commissioner Stu Soffer, one of two republicans on the board, said he didn’t recall that being said, but said “if it pleases” Sims - he would agree. Adam told the board and public that the commission can’t force Johnson to do anything.

Soffer, Adam and Rev. Turner had suggested moving the county’s early voting location from its current spot to the courthouse rotunda. According to an e-mail sent to Turner from County Clerk Johnson at the beginning of the month, Johnson said they weren’t moving the polling site and to take it up with County Judge Dutch King.

Adcock tells KATV, he had a brief discussion with Johnson about the potential issues regarding the space when he first visiting Jefferson County at the beginning of the month.

“Her response was that they’d never had any problems before,” recounted Adcock.

When KATV attempted to speak with Johnson on Monday afternoon, but before even mentioning the issues regarding the early voting site, Johnson directed all questions to the county attorney and said she had, “no comment.”

Jackie Harris, county attorney, told KATV by phone that it’s his understanding that Johnson plans to correct the violations, but couldn’t say whether Johnson planned to remove machines from the current polling room or move the polling site to the rotunda.

County Judge Dutch King said his position on moving the early voting site hasn’t changed; he still doesn’t see a reason not to do it. King said the county’s last election was held in the rotunda and doesn’t understand why Johnson apparently has an aversion to making the move.

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