BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
AND BLAIR COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA,
This settlement agreement (the “Agreement”) is entered into as of February 25, 2014 (“Effective Date”), between the United States of America and Blair County, Pennsylvania (collectively, the “Parties”).
- The United States Department of Justice (the “Department”) opened an investigation of Blair County, Pennsylvania (the “County”) under title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 - 12134, and the Department’s title II implementing regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 35, to determine the accessibility of the County’s polling places to people with disabilities.
- The County has 97 voting divisions, currently housed in 86 polling place locations. The County, through its Elections Office, is responsible for reviewing the accessibility of each polling place and selecting each polling place.
- Based on reviews of 82 voting divisions, housed in 71 polling place locations, conducted by the Department during the November 2012 election, the Department concluded that many of the County’s polling places contain barriers to access for persons with disabilities and are not compliant with requirements of the ADA.
- The County is a “public entity” within the meaning of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1), and 28 C.F.R. § 35.104, and is, therefore, subject to title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 – 12134.
- The Department is authorized under the ADA to determine the County’s compliance with title II of the ADA and the Department’s title II implementing regulation, to issue findings, and, where appropriate, to negotiate and secure voluntary compliance agreements. 28 C.F.R. Part 35, Subpart F. Furthermore, the Attorney General is authorized, under 42 U.S.C. § 12133, to bring a civil action enforcing title II of the ADA if voluntary compliance cannot be secured.
- The County denies the Department’s allegations.
TERMS OF SETTLEMENT
Obligations of Blair County
A. Accessible Voting Program
- Accessible polling places are and shall be the cornerstone of the County’s voting accessibility program. The County has an obligation to provide an accessible voting program under the ADA, including a program that is accessible to persons who use wheelchairs and persons who are blind or have other vision disabilities. 42 U.S.C. §12132.
- For all elections beginning with the November 2014 election, the County will implement the recommendations set forth in Paragraphs 25 and 26, to ensure that each and every polling place location is permanently or temporarily accessible on Election Day, and will relocate inaccessible locations to an alternative accessible location pursuant to the process established by Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
- The County shall maintain in operable working condition on Election Day those features of facilities and equipment (including, but not limited to, both permanent equipment such as lifts and elevators and temporary equipment such as portable ramps, traffic cones, wedges, and door stops) that are required to make polling places accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. 28 C.F.R. § 35.133(a). If circumstances arise such that a polling place location that was previously accessible is no longer accessible because a feature of the facility or equipment is no longer operable, then the County shall relocate the polling place to an alternative, accessible location in accordance with Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
- Beginning with the November 2014 election and for the duration of this Agreement, the County will ensure that at each polling place location with off-street parking, at least one van-accessible parking space will be provided temporarily on Election Day, through the use of traffic cones and appropriate signage, or in some other equally effective manner.
- For the duration of this Agreement, the County will advertise and publish through the County website and other appropriate local media, the polling place locations that are accessible to voters with disabilities. Within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County’s website must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA, published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), available at www.w3.org/TR/WCAG.
- The County will cooperate fully with the Department’s efforts to monitor compliance with this Agreement, including but not limited to, providing the Department with timely access to polling places (including on Election Day), maps, surveys, and other requested information.
- The County agrees that the following temporary measures are reasonable and will be implemented where necessary to make an otherwise inaccessible polling place temporarily accessible on Election Day. The list of measures is not exhaustive; the Parties may agree to implement other, reasonable temporary measures.
- Portable ramps (including curb ramps) up to and including ramps six feet long, with side edge protection.
- Portable wedges or wedge ramps.
- Floor mats.
- Traffic Cones.
- Relocating furniture or other moveable barriers.
- Door stops.
- Propping open doors.
- Unlocking doors.
- Signage, including parking signage.
- Portable buzzers or door bells.
- Removing astragals in doorways that are not a permanent part of the structure.
B. Survey and Review of Polling Place Locations
- Of the 86 polling place locations that were used in the November 2012 election, all but 15 were surveyed by the Department. Beginning with the effective date of this Agreement, the County will survey the 15 polling place locations not surveyed by the Department that the County intends to use in future elections, using the survey instrument referenced in Paragraph 28 of this Agreement. The County will provide these surveys to the Department as they are conducted, to be completed no later than April 30, 2014.
- If the Department concludes that a survey was conducted in error, then the County will re-survey the portions in error. If the Department concludes that the County has proposed a remedial provision that does not fully address the violation, then the Department will recommend a temporary remedial measure consistent with Paragraph 13 of this Agreement that the County will implement in the next election. If the County chooses not to or is unable to implement one or more of the recommended temporary remedial measures, it will relocate the inaccessible polling place location to an accessible polling place location selected pursuant to the process established by Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
- For the polling place locations surveyed by the County pursuant to Paragraph 14, by the November 2014 election, the County will implement the appropriate remedial provisions to make polling place locations temporarily accessible on Election Day, or will relocate inaccessible locations to an alternative accessible location pursuant to the process established by Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
- After the effective date of this Agreement, the County shall make accessibility a major criterion when it selects new locations for polling places. 42 U.S.C. § 12132. It shall be the policy and practice of the County to review each newly proposed polling place location to determine whether it is accessible to persons with disabilities or could be made temporarily accessible on Election Day the remedial measures provided for in Paragraph 13 of this Agreement, before the County’s selection of the location as a polling place. The County shall use the survey instrument referenced in Paragraph 28 of this Agreement to make all future polling place location selections. If the County ultimately determines that a newly proposed location is not accessible (as defined by the survey instrument) or cannot be made temporarily accessible on Election Day, then the County will reject the location and continue searching until an accessible location or one that can be made temporarily accessible on Election Day can be found.
- When the County selects a new polling place location, it will provide the Department notice of its decision-making within twenty-one (21) days of the decision. The County will provide the Department with copies of all surveys and photographs conducted pursuant to Paragraph 14 of this Agreement within twenty-one (21) days of the decision to use the location as a polling place and prior to the location being used in an election.
- If the County finds that it cannot implement a previously agreed-to recommendation regarding a specific polling place location, the County will immediately notify the Department and, upon request, meet and confer with the Department. If the issue cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of the Department, the County will relocate the site to an alternative accessible location pursuant to the process established by Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
- Prior to each election during the term of this Agreement, the County will provide training to Highway Department personnel on how to implement the temporary remedies (e.g., how to install ramps, the placement of mats over (and not in front of) thresholds). As part of its training program for election officials and poll workers, the County will provide training concerning temporary remedial measures, including: (a) why such measures are necessary; and (b) the poll workers’ obligations to not interfere with, move, or otherwise change the temporary remedies in place at their polling place locations for the entire Election Day.
- The County will require that all Highway Department personnel who implement the temporary remedies, sign a form in which they are asked to swear or affirm that in performing Election Day duties, the Highway Department personnel will make sure that all temporary measures at each polling place location be installed where instructed and be in place before the opening of the polls.
D. Election Day Compliance Review
- In the materials provided to each Election Judge for Election Day, the County will include a checklist of the temporary measures to be implemented on Election Day at each polling place location where such measures are required. The checklist should contain a place for a signature by the Election Judge that he or she kept the temporary remedies in place throughout Election Day, from the opening of the polls to their closing, and should be returned to the County along with other election materials. Copies of these checklists will be provided to the Department within twenty-one (21) days of the election.
- If a temporary remedy is not in place at any time on Election Day, the Election Judge should contact the County Election Director. The County Election Director shall then send the Highway Department personnel to fix the non-compliant implementation of the temporary measures when possible. Non-compliance shall be documented by both the Election Judge on the checklists referenced above and the County Election Director. The County Election Director will provide copies of his or her documentation to the Department within twenty-one (21) days of the election.
- If the County does not properly implement the temporary remedial measures necessary at a particular polling place location on Election Day in two (2) consecutive elections, then the County will no longer use the polling place location and shall relocate it to an accessible location or one that can be made temporarily accessible on Election Day pursuant to Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement.
Obligations of The Department
- In order to assist the County to meet its obligations under the ADA, the Department has provided the County with information from the Department’s November 2012 reviews of the County’s polling place locations, including the violations found and recommendations for how to make each location temporarily accessible on Election Day, as applicable.
- The Department has also provided the County with its recommendations regarding polling place locations that the Department has determined, through its November 2012 surveys, are not accessible and cannot be made temporarily accessible on Election Day. If a polling place location can only be made accessible through permanent remedies (through facility alterations), then the Department recommended that the polling place be relocated to an alternate, accessible location. The County will select alternative locations for these polling place locations pursuant to Paragraphs 17 and 18 of this Agreement, and implement all new polling place locations by the November 2014 election. Nothing in this Agreement prohibits the County from making ADA-compliant, permanent modifications to its polling place locations instead of providing temporary remedial measures.
- Throughout the duration of this Agreement, the Department may conduct compliance surveys or reviews of the County’s polling places in each election or at any other time with reasonable notice.
- The Department will provide assistance to the County on devising and using a survey instrument that will assess whether a newly proposed polling place location is or can be made temporarily accessible on Election Day. The survey instrument will include a requirement to include photographs and will also require the identification of appropriate remedial provisions, including the remedial provisions in Paragraph 13 of this Agreement. The survey instrument will be submitted to the Department for review and approval within 21 days of the effective date of this Agreement.
- If at any time one of the Parties to this Agreement desires to modify any portion of this Agreement, it will promptly notify the other Party in writing, setting forth the facts and circumstances thought to justify modification and the substance of the proposed modification. The Party receiving a request to modify the Agreement will not unreasonably delay notifying the requesting Party as to whether it will agree to the proposed modification. No modification will take effect unless and until the Parties memorialize the agreed upon modification in writing.
- In consideration of the mutual promises contained in this Agreement, good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is acknowledged, and to avoid the costs, expenses and uncertainty of protracted litigation, the Parties, intending to be legally bound, enter into this Agreement.
- In consideration of, and consistent with the terms of this Agreement, the Department agrees to refrain from filing any civil suit related to the accessibility of the County’s polling places for voters with disabilities until the day after three years from the effective date of this Agreement, except as provided in Paragraph 32 of this Agreement.
- The United States may review compliance with this Agreement at any time. If the United States believes that the County has failed to comply in a timely manner with any requirement of this Agreement, the United States will so notify the County in writing and attempt to resolve the issue in good faith. If the United States is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution of the issue within thirty (30) days, after providing notice to the County and allowing the County an opportunity to cure, the United States may institute a civil action in federal district court to enforce the terms of this Agreement, or take other action to enforce Title II of the ADA.
- Failure by the Department to enforce this Agreement with regard to any deadline or other provision of the Agreement will not be construed as a waiver of the Department’s right to enforce other deadlines and provisions of this Agreement.
- A copy of this document will be made available to any person by the County on request.
- This Agreement shall be applicable to and binding upon both Parties, their officers, agents, employees, and assigns.
- This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the Parties on the matters raised herein, and no other statement, promise, or agreement, either written or oral, made by either Party or agents of either Party, that is not contained in this written Agreement, will be enforceable. This Agreement does not purport to remedy any other disputes regarding the ADA or any other federal law, except to the extent they are related to the accessibility of the County’s polling place locations to voters with disabilities.
- This Agreement will remain in effect for three years from the effective date.
- The person signing for the County represents that he or she is authorized to bind the County to this Agreement.
FOR THE UNITED STATES:
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
EVE L. HILL
Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
REBECCA B. BOND
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
Acting Deputy Chief
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
Senior Trial Attorney
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW - NYA
Washington, D.C. 20530
Telephone: (202) 307-3543
Facsimile: (202) 305-9775
Date: March 10, 2014
FOR BLAIR COUNTY:
Diane L. Meling, Commissioner
Terry Tomassetti, Commissioner
Ted Beam, Jr., Commissioner