'Confusion' Leads to Handicap Accessibility Issue at West Erie Polling Location
(ERIE, P.A. - WICU/WSEE/CW) -A West Erie polling location is experiencing an accessibility issue, which has prevented some people living with disabilities from accessing voting machines.
Erie News Now made a call to Erie County Clerk of Elections Doug Smith, Smith said voting machines at the Bosnian Islamic Culture Center of Erie, located on 1001 W 21st St in the City of Erie were moved to an upstairs gym, after a scheduling conflict prevented the machines from being in its usual spot in a downstairs social hall.
Voter, Kathy Hertzog, who is unable to use her hands, was just one a few Erie voters who could not access the machines. Hertzog, who serves as Board President for the nonprofit "Voices for Independence" told Erie News Now she was 'frustrated' and 'shocked.' Hertzog had been attending this polling location for the past 20 years and says she never experienced a problem.
Judge of Elections for the polling place, Betty Kelly, offered Hertzog, and other voters an opportunity to fill out a paper provisional ballot. Hertzog filled it out with the use of her mouth stick. According to both Smith and Kelly, other voters refused to fill it out.
Hertzog says filling out the provisional ballot strips a voter of their privacy. Smith told us, the polling places do provide privacy screens for those who fill out the provisional ballots. Despite her frustrations, Hertzog emphasized the importance of voting.
"I try to encourage everybody else to vote, and I encourage all my attendant care staff to vote." Hertzog said "Because, if you don't vote, you can't really complain, and you can't get things changed and you can't make things better if you don't have a say."
According to Smith, the county learned of the move around 6 a.m Tuesday, and did not have time to make any arrangements.
"That's frustrating on our part." Smith said "And obviously it's created frustration for some voters."
Smith said the center was also dealing with issues electricity, heat and the machines themselves.
"We're faced with all sorts of problems." said Smith
Erie News Now also made a call to Imam for the Bosnian Islamic Culture Center Aden Garic. Garic says the center is hosting a Ramadan event in the social hall on Tuesday night , and is something the center has had planned for 'months.'
"We're truly sorry for the misunderstanding." Garic said "We couldn't make any solutions."
According to Garic, the center was not made aware of the election, as they are usually given at least a two-weeks notice by the county.
Despite the mix-up, Smith said he does not believe the center committed any violations.
"It comes back on us, really." he said
"I would hope that the group that rents this out, or the election board could maybe find a more accessible space within our community that we could still walk to, and still get to easily." said Hertzog "So maybe this doesn't happen again in the future."
Smith says the board of elections will be in contact with the center, and will work to provide 'sooner' notice to polling places ahead of the next election cycle.