Feds, Hidalgo County reach settlement on accessibility for voters with disabilities

McALLEN — Access to polls for voters with disabilities is expected to improve thanks to a settlement that was reached between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Hidalgo County, U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez announced in a news release on Wednesday.

At the center of the settlement was Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits state or local governments to discriminate on the basis of disability. This extends to programs and services, including voting.

Referring to the right to vote as “the cornerstone of our democracy,” Martinez said in the release that the agreement will ensure equal opportunities for voters “with mobility disabilities and vision impairments” to cast their ballots at their assigned polling locations.

“Under the terms of the settlement, accessibility will be a major criterion in the county’s selection of polling places,” the release read. “To make that assessment, the county will use an evaluation form for each prospective polling place based on ADA architectural standards. The county has agreed either to relocate inaccessible polling places to accessible facilities or to use temporary measures such as portable ramps, signs, traffic cones and remote signaling devices where appropriate to ensure accessibility on Election Day.”

It was the USAO’s Civil Rights Section that specifically worked with Hidalgo County toward reaching the agreement, according to the release. Martinez praised the county for participating in the collaborative effort.

“We commend Hidalgo County for its cooperation in our investigation as well as the county’s commitment to make its voting program fully accessible,” Martinez said in the release before noting the USAO’s commitment to “continued, vigorous enforcement of the panoply of federal civil rights laws aimed at securing the right to vote for all Americans, including the ADA.”