During the 2004 presidential election, Disability Rights Wisconsin sent out an army of volunteers to survey the state's polling places to see if they were accessible. Volunteers found a host of problems, including a lack of accessible parking and doorways too narrow for wheelchairs.
This year, the state's Government Accountability Board took over. The board surveyed polling sites throughout the year, and on Election Day, sent out 13 people statewide to spot check polls' accessibility. Thirteen is not a huge number, acknowledges Dotti Milner, an elections specialist with the Government Accountability Board.
"It's all we have for staff," she says. "We require them to be trained. We don't want them to be from advocacy groups, who might have a conflict."
The staffers visited multiple polling locations, "from Superior all the way down to the far reaches," says Milner. "We were all over."
Alicia Boehme of Disability Rights Wisconsin says municipalities around the state have made "significant improvement" in accessibility. "But that doesn't guarantee every site is accessible. We view it as an ongoing process."
In fact, some people with disabilities who tried to vote early ran into problems. In some areas, clerks had failed to set up accessible voting machines. "We got calls from folks who went in to use the machines, and they were not turned on," says Boehme.
On Election Day, few people reported any problems with accessibility, says Boehme. "In Madison, I haven't heard of any problems that weren't easily resolved." She thinks the state's efforts to improve accessibility has paid off. "It's good news."