Inaccessible polling locations were barriers to Madison voters Tuesday

MADISON, Wis. — Some voters in Madison faced new polling locations on Tuesday, and among trying to track down the new locations, some struggled to even get inside.

“When I got in there and saw the stairs, I thought, ‘Oh no I know I couldn’t climb all those stairs,'” said Barb Arndt, an 89-year-old Madison voter.

She had previously voted at a school on Madison’s north side. Her polling place, as well as other voters’, moved for the April election due to a combination of ward lines being redrawn and the Madison Metropolitan School District not allowing school buildings to be used as polling locations.

District spokesman Tim LeMonds said that was due to concerns over COVID-19 — the district currently has a masking policy in place, but masks cannot be required in polling locations. LeMonds said the district will reevaluate for future elections based on the conditions of the pandemic at that time.

Barbara Beckert of Disability Rights Wisconsin is working to help provide better accessibility to voting.

“People feel very strongly about having their voting experience equal with what anyone else has,” she said.

There are some workarounds to what Arndt experienced. Wisconsin law requires curbside voting be in place at all locations for those who cannot make it inside the polling place due to disability.

“The challenge is that not too many municipalities are proactive in sharing information about a curbside voting is available for people who need it,” she said.

This can have tangible impacts — Arndt said some people did not vote at her polling place because they were not able to get inside. Arndt was able to get inside after someone there showed her a ramp that was more accessible to her.

“But man, it was quite a way to go, and if it was raining it would have been slippery and I don’t know,” she said.

Beckert audited Tuesday’s election from an accessibility standpoint and is also collecting information from voters on specific issues they want to see addressed.

She said concerned voters can reach the Disability Rights Wisconsin hotline via (844) 347-8683 or info@disabilityvote.org.