Election 2019

How Philly is making all voting locations accessible for the first time ever

Plus: What to do if you get to the polls and have trouble making it inside.

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Dan Levy / Billy Penn
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Updated 10 a.m.

This Election Day marks the first time in history all Philadelphia polling places are accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility.

According to the City Commissioners Office, the city doesn’t keep track of complaints about accessibility. In 2006, 594 polling places weren’t accessible. The City Commissioners Office gradually reduced that number over the years, leaving just 22 inaccessible for the May primary. 

That won’t be the case on Nov. 5.

Why do all 800-plus polling places now boast 100% accessibility? Not because of any desire to accommodate actual humans. As the Inquirer reported, the polling places were finally ramped up so workers could put in place the new, giant, state-mandated touchscreen voting machines.


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Intended or not, Philadelphians with limited mobility can now take advantage of the easier access. And if someone has trouble getting in, the city provides a few last-minute options.

This shift to accessibility won’t happen easily. In the runup to E-Day, city staffers will have to visit hundreds of polling places to install temporary add-ons like ramps and door stops.

It’s a pretty substantial undertaking. The city’s 1,700-plus judges of elections — the trained civilians who are paid to monitor voting as it happens — must each visit their local police precinct the weekend before the election to pick up accessibility kits. The packages include ramps, wedge mats to help smooth out any doorway bumps, door stops and door bells.

On the morning of Election Day, the judge brings all the materials to their location and sets it all up, enlisting other poll workers to help with the process.

This time around, polling places hosting 811 divisions will require modifications. That adds up to about half the total number of spots, since some precincts share a single location for casting votes.

Another FYI: Just because all the polling places themselves will be accessible doesn’t mean you won’t encounter any issues. Some polling places don’t have accessible parking spots, for example. Others might be hard to reach due to damaged or under-construction sidewalks.

If something goes wrong on Election Day, you’ve got a couple options:

Option 1: Go to City Hall

First. know this: If you’re assigned to vote at one of the 110 divisions that have full accessibility — that’s an accessible building and an accessible parking lot — then you can’t utilize the alternate options. Sorry.

Other than that caveat, if you have a disability, or you’re at least 65 years old, you’re eligible for a voting Plan B.

If you get to the polls on Nov. 5 and have trouble getting inside, you can place your vote at City Hall, inside room 142. They’ll ask you to fill out an application for an emergency alternative ballot, then you’ll be good to go.

You’ve gotta do it by 8 p.m. on Election Day — same time as regular polls close — or your vote won’t count.

Option 2: Have a friend go for you

If you’ve already got limited mobility, it might be tough to make it to City Hall. That’s where Plan C comes in.

You can send a representative to City Hall in your place — a friend or family member is best — to go get a ballot and bring it home for you to fill out.

Have your pal visit that same Room 142 and fill out a different form, known as the “designation of agent to assist disabled voter in voting by absentee or alternative ballot.”

Basically, they’ll sign to promise they aren’t just voting twice for themselves. Then you’ll sign to certify you voted, they’ll return the form to City Hall before 8 p.m., and democracy will rage on as promised.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2019 stories.

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