Havre Daily News
Polling places in Hill County may be consolidated after an assessment found that 11 of the 21 voting sites cannot be cost-effectively changed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The county also is awaiting the arrival of 10 new touch-screen voting computers from the Secretary of State's office, Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem said Tuesday.
The Hill County Commission will hold a public meeting next Thursday to discuss possible solutions to the ADA requirements. Mellem said consolidating the polling stations also would save the county money.
“We can't afford to maintain 21 precincts in this county and we don't have 21 that meet ADA,” Mellem said Tuesday. “Elections are getting more and more expensive. We can minimize long-term expenses with less polling places.”
Mellem said she's unsure of the cost of the computers and the programming software needed to coordinate the new equipment with the old. The new machines will include headphones for vocal explanations of the ballot and directions available in Braille, she said.
“What we're using works beautifully, but technology is moving ahead of it. The new equipment is a couple of steps up from what we have. If we tried to keep up with the most advanced technology, we would have to upgrade twice a year,” she said.
The new equipment and proposed polling station changes will be set for the June 6 primary election. New ADA requirements go into effect in June.
The ADA standards require polling facilities to meet the needs of the disabled, including wide doorways, designated parking and bathrooms with suitable handicapped-accessible stalls, she said.
None of the 10 sites Mellem wants to keep meet the standards, she said, but those fixes are relatively minor.
Mellem said those fixes would cost about $3,000 per facility. The majority of costs for replacing and installing signs and other needs will be covered with Help America Vote Act grants, Mellem said.
The District IV Human Resources District Council facility, for example, needs smaller push bars installed on the entrance doors, she said. The Hill County Electric/Triangle Telephone building only needs a sign.
Mellem said the proposed polling sites - with the improvements - should meet ADA requirements for the next seven years.
She said she learned a lot by doing her assessment. The lack of a few inches in the width of an entrance can make a big difference, she said.
Mellem and deputy election administrator Betty Williams checked all 21 polling places, with the help of Julie Anderson of Havre Day Activity Center and Hill County Council on Aging member Gwen Goar.
Mellem said she was impressed with the women's ability to enter a bathroom and know a soap dispenser is too high to meet requirements just by looking at it.
“They see why these changes are needed. They deal with it every day,” she added.
Mellem said the county has almost discontinued the use of private buildings as polling places and because the majority of stations will be located in public buildings, the upgrades will benefit the entire community.