Harris County, TX, Sued by United States for Election Polling Place Accessibility
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AND HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS
The United States of America and Harris County, Texas (collectively, the "Parties") have entered into a settlement agreement (the "Agreement") regarding accessible election polling places.
Following an investigation that began with violations previously identified by the United States in its letter of September 29, 2014, and in its five expert reports sent on August 9, 2018, the United States brought a civil action against Harris County, Texas (“Harris County”), to enforce Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Title II’s implementing regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 35. The effective date of this settlement is March 12, 2019! It took over 4 years to reach a settlement!
The United States alleged that Harris County has discriminated, and continues to discriminate, on the basis of disability, by failing to provide physically accessible polling places to people with mobility and vision disabilities, as required by Title II and the Title II regulation. The United States found that many of Harris County’s polling places contained architectural barriers such as excessively sloped parking areas, narrow doorways, steep ramps, protruding objects, and inaccessible doorknobs that rendered the facilities inaccessible to voters with disabilities.
TERMS OF SETTLEMENT
For all elections occurring after the Effective Date of this Agreement, Harris County will implement measures to remediate the violations previously identified by the United States and in its five expert reports to make those polling place locations accessible on Election Day, or will relocate those locations not remediated to an alternative accessible location. Harris County will provide its remediation plan to the United States within one hundred eighty (180) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement.
For Harris County-owned facilities, Harris County shall maintain in operable working condition on Election Day those features of facilities and equipment (including permanent equipment such as lifts and elevators and temporary equipment such as portable ramps, traffic cones, signs, wedges, and door stops) that are required to make polling places Accessible on Election Day.
For all facilities not owned by Harris County, Harris County shall maintain in operable working condition on Election Day those features of facilities and equipment owned by Harris County (including temporary equipment such as portable ramps, traffic cones, signs, wedges, and door stops) that are required to make polling places
Obligations of Harris County
Harris County obligations as a result of this settlement are significant in time and costs. The obligations include:
Maintain an Accessible Voting Program. Within one hundred twenty (120) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement, Harris County shall submit its revised policies, practices, and procedures to the United States for review and approval. Within ten (10) days of receiving comments from the United States, Harris County shall incorporate in its policies, practices, and procedures any additions or modifications proposed by the United States that bring the County’s policies, practices, and procedures into compliance with the ADA.
Conform to 2010 Standards. Harris County will modify its polling place accessibility survey instrument to conform with the 2010 Standards. The survey instrument will include: (1) measurements of each feature in the survey form (e.g., width of parking space, slope of curb ramp); (2) photographs of each element of the polling place and of each measurement; (3) the identification of all appropriate remedial measures, including the remedial measures in Paragraph 22 of this Agreement; and (4) measurements (including slope measurements) and photographs of each remedial measure as it will be implemented on Election Day. The survey instrument will be submitted to the United States for review and approval within sixty (60) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement. Within ten (10) days of receiving comments from the United States, Harris County shall incorporate in its survey instrument any reasonable changes, additions, or modifications proposed by the United States.
Election Judge and Poll Worker Training. Prior to each election during the term of this Agreement, as part of its training program for election judges and poll workers, Harris County will provide training on Title II of the ADA and the requirements of this Agreement as applied to Harris County’s voting program.
Election Day Compliance Review. Harris County will develop a checklist of the temporary measures to be implemented on Election Day at each polling place location where such measures are required.
Staff Training. Within one hundred twenty (120) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement, Harris County will provide training to all employees in the Elections Division and any relevant contractors or vendors, including those who conduct surveys or implement temporary measures, on Title II of the ADA and the requirements of this Agreement as applied to Harris County’s voting program.
Complaint Collection and Review Process. Harris County will submit for approval by the United States, and then adopt, procedures providing for the receipt of and prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging that the County’s voting program discriminates against persons with disabilities.
Establish ADA Coordinator for the Election Division. Within ninety (90) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement and for the term of this Agreement, Harris County will designate an employee to serve as an ADA Coordinator for the Elections Division. The ADA Coordinator will be trained in and knowledgeable about the ADA and the terms of this Agreement, and will investigate any complaint that the County, election judges, or any other person under the authority or control of Harris County receives alleging that the County’s voting program discriminates against persons with disabilities. The ADA Coordinator will also implement the complaint procedures described in Paragraph 42.
Provide copies of any subsequent complaints to the United States. Harris County will promptly provide to the United States a copy of the written complaint procedures described in Paragraph 42. Every ninety (90) days, Harris County will provide a written report to the United States including summaries of any complaints. Harris County must do this for four (4) years!
Specific measures. Harris County agrees that the following measures will be implemented where necessary to make an otherwise inaccessible polling place accessible on Election Day. The list of measures is not exhaustive; Harris County may propose other reasonable, temporary measures subject to the review and approval of the United States.
Portable ramps (including curb ramps) up to and including ramps six feet long, with side edge protection.
Portable wedges or wedge ramps.
Relocating furniture or other moveable barriers.
Propping open doors.
Signage, including parking and accessible entrance directional signage.
Portable buzzers or door bells.
Removing astragals (center door posts) that are not a permanent part of the structure from doorways.