Harris County sued by DOJ over polling places for voters with disabilities

HOUSTON - The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Harris County, saying the county hasn't made polling places accessible to voters with disabilities.

The suit claims the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Justice Department said many polling places in Harris County have architectural barriers like steep ramps and narrow doors.

"Like all voters, individuals with disabilities deserve the opportunity to vote at their local polling place -- where they can greet neighbors, meet candidates and discuss the issues in their community," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said. "But many voters with disabilities in Harris County lack equal access to this basic and most fundamental right. 

"Our lawsuit seeks to safeguard the right to vote and fulfill the ADA's promise of equal opportunity for people with disabilities."

The lawsuit seeks a court order that would require the county to make all polling locations compliant with the law in time for the general election in November. 

"Access to voting for all eligible citizens is a priority in this district, partially evidenced by the recently created Civil - Civil Rights Section within our office," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas said.  "This division civilly enforces federal civil rights laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act, among many others. 

"We will continue to work with the Department of Justice and investigate and remedy such alleged violations to ensure all U.S. citizens are treated fairly and equally."

KPRC 2 has reached out to Harris County officials, who said they will respond after reviewing the filing. 

Read the DOJ's findings about Harris County polling places here.

Harris County Clerk and Chief Election Official, Stan Stanart told KPRC the DOJ’s investigation is full of errors.

Stanart finds it troubling that the DOJ had no complaints from voters, yet investigated their polling locations anyway.

“They have zero complaints, they told us that in a meeting, they have nobody who has complained to them,” Stanart said. “We have had no one who has complained to us about access.”

Stanart said the county takes particular care of its voters by giving them the option to vote at home or if someone has trouble making it inside they will bring the voting machine out and allow them to vote curbside in their car.

“We are gonna take care of our voters,” Stanart said. “We want people to vote.”

In response to the lawsuit, county officials admit there are nine polling locations with deficiencies and those nine places will no longer be used, new ones will be found.

The nine being reassigned are:

  • Holy Name Church
  • Lindale Assembly Church of God
  • San Jacinto Girl Scout Imperial Valley Center
  • Woodland Park Community Center
  • Cage Elementary School
  • Emanuel Deliverance Temple
  • Greater Love Baptist Church
  • Scarsdale Civic Association Building
  • North Shore Friends Church

“If someone knows of a problem at a polling location let us know,” Stanart said. “We will remedy it.”

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2