AM 890 and kbbi.org: Serving the Kenai Peninsula
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some borough polling places violate Americans with Disabilities Act, feds say

A Kenai polling location at the Kenai Mall during the Oct. 3, 2023 election.
Hunter Morrison
/
KDLL
A Kenai polling location at the Kenai Mall during the Oct. 3, 2023 election.

Polling places on the Kenai Peninsula violate the Americans with Disabilities Act in more than 30 ways. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which outlined the violations in a letter sent to the Alaska Division of Elections in June. The department warned Alaska could face legal action if the violations aren’t resolved.

The department said it opened an investigation into Alaska’s voting system in response to allegations that the system isn’t access to people with disabilities.

A 32-page spreadsheet also forwarded by the DOJ itemizes the violations. It describes more than 30 violations on the Kenai Peninsula, including 13 in Seward, seven in Kenai, three in Homer and 11 in Soldotna.

The violations range from the slope of ramps in and out of polling locations and lack of accessible parking signs to protruding objects.

Renee Krause is acting city clerk and ADA coordinator in Homer. She says the city’s been aware of the violations outlined in the DOJ letter for years.

“If somebody cannot get from our accessible parking down the sidewalk and into the city hall here, we have taken out election materials to them and we provide the documents and we go to their vehicle,” she said.

Two of the violations identified in Homer are related to ramps leading from accessible parking sports to the polling location. The DOJ says they’re too steep. The city also lacks an accessible path from the sidewalk into the polling place.

While the city plans on fixing the ramps in the next couple fiscal years, creating an accessible path is a much bigger project. Special Projects Coordinator Jenny Carroll says the city will work on including that project as they update their plan for improvements around the city.

“We happen to be in the capital improvement plan update right now,” she said. “And we'll be working certainly with Public Works and the ADA Advisory Board to amend that project to reflect the broader need.”

On the central peninsula, the Department of Justice says there are a combined 18 violations at the Kenai City Clerk’s Office and Soldotna Prep School. At Kenai City Hall, the DOJ says there’s insufficient accessible parking, the ramp slopes are too steep and the elevator car to the polling place is too small.

Soldotna Prep School houses multiple precincts. The DOJ says there aren’t signs designating van parking spaces and one of the accessible parking spaces has a vertical change in level. The threshold of the door to get into the polling place is also higher than allowable and there isn’t sufficient floor space for voters using the accessible voting machines.

Michele Turner, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s clerk and ADA coordinator, referred questions about the DOJ letter to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Shellie Saner, clerk for the City of Kenai, said she’d not heard of the DOJ letter prior to KDLL reaching out for comment. Her office is the state’s absentee in-person polling site for Kenai. She said via email the city will look into the issues raised by the Department of Justice and determine a course of action for the city.

Michaela Thompson is the operations manager for the Alaska Division of Elections. She told KDLL via email the division works diligently to ensure polling places are located in ADA-compliant facilities. The division, she said, is reviewing the concerns raised by the Department of Justice and will work with them toward a resolution.

“Election supervisors personally check locations when feasible, and for more remote areas, city and tribal clerks assist by filling out a survey of a location,” she said.

The ADA violations described in the DOJ letter are unrelated to a lawsuit brought against the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2015. In that case, a Homer man filed a complaint with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights that alleged the borough’s voting machines didn’t comply with his vision disability.

To resolve that complaint, the borough acquired new voting machines that allow visually impaired voters to cast ballots independently.

The state’s next election is August 20. That’ll be the state primary election. This year’s general election is Nov. 5. The Alaska Division of Elections maintains a webpage with resources for voters with disabilities on its website.

Prior to joining KDLL's news team in May 2024, O'Hara spent nearly four years reporting for the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai. Before that, she was a freelance reporter for The New York Times, a statehouse reporter for the Columbia Missourian and a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach her at aohara@kdll.org