Blair seeks compliance with new voting rules

HOLLIDAYSBURG – By the November election, Blair County expects to have all voting precincts in compliance with rules to accommodate those with disabilities.

A November 2012 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found many county precincts lacked compliance, and since then, efforts have been made to address what was wrong, county leaders said Tuesday.

In some cases, that meant using traffic cones and signs during elections to designate handicapped parking spaces, including spaces that accommodate vans. In other cases, it meant providing portable buzzer or door bells to alert election poll staffers that a handicapped voter needs assistance.

“Most of the equipment has already been bought … and we’ve been using it,” elections Director Sarah Seymour said.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to sign a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which reviewed 71 Blair County voting polls during the November 2012 election.

Under the agreement, the county is expected to review 15 additional polls, by April 30, that were not included in the November 2012 survey.

Afterwards, the county must provide information from its survey to the justice department.

If the department identifies a concern, the county will be expected to address it. And, if the county’s remedy does not satisfy the department, the agreement states that the justice department can order the county to relocate the poll.

To be in compliance by November, Seymour said the county will need to buy at least three more portable buzzers, which cost about $600 each because they meet specific requirements and they have been patented. That expense, Seymour said, can be covered with federal money, which remains available through Help America Vote Act.

The county relied on HAVA to cover the expenses incurred earlier for traffic cones, signs, buzzers and efforts to improve accessibility.

“So far, we’ve spent $34,000 to bring things into compliance,” Meling said.

The agreement also specifies that all election judges who staff the polls on election days will need to review a checklist of temporary measures, provided by the county, that are to be in effect to accommodate the handicapped. If something on the checklist is not available, polling staffers are to contact the county elections director who will in turn contact the county highway department to address the matter.

Meling also praised Seymour and Solicitor Nathan Karn for working many hours on the agreement with the justice department.

“At the beginning, their requests were onerous,” Meling said.

Seymour called them “labor intensive.”

“These requests are reasonable,” Meling said in reference to the agreement which she urged fellow commissioners to approve. “And we can do them.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.