CA’s Contra Costa County Guest Post in electionlineWeekly on Classes on Voter Accessibility

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The latest electionlineWeekly has a guest post from Paul Burgarino, a community outreach specialist in California’s Contra Costa County, describing his office’s efforts to augment polling place accessibility by educating poll workers on key issues involving voting by people with disabilities:

The Contra Costa County Elections staff has always worked to make sure polling places are accessible, but this year they’ve taken that commitment to the next level.

After reviewing different ways to help poll workers understand the importance of creating an accessible polling place, the elections division created a class dedicated that highlights every aspect of accessibility in the polling place.

The Elections Division call this class APPLE, which stands for Accessible Polling Place Locations and Equipment. Topics covered during the class include the following:

  • How our office surveys sites for compliance with federal accessibility standards;
  • Using items such as ramps and signs to make polling places accessible;
  • Creating a welcoming environment for all voters;
  • Setting up and using a ballot marking device with accessible features;
  • Identifying potential accessibility issues in the field.

“We saw a bit of a disconnect between the efforts we put in to ensure polling places are accessible and how we share its importance with our poll workers,” Assistant Registrar Scott Konopasek said. “By having a class dedicated just to voter accessibility, our poll workers can see the valuable role they play in ensuring all residents can vote comfortably.”

The APPLE class curriculum includes real examples of inaccessible polling places, and guides poll workers on how to identify accessibility issues and how to use the ballot marking device.

“There are a lot of ‘Ah ha’ moments, where people see that a lot of people may have common challenges they never thought about. It’s a real eye opener,” said Camille Cain, one of the Elections Division staff members who developed and teaches the course.

Adds fellow instructor Chris Juell: “Accessibility is not just for the people who need it, it’s for everybody.”

The APPLE classes were fairly inexpensive. Contra Costa Elections officials say that in addition to the staff time to prepare the class curriculum, the hard costs included renting a couple of training venues throughout the county at a cost of less than $2,000 and just over $5,000 for some special pins to present attendees of the class.

Attendance of the APPLE class is voluntary. Since the class launched in January, 599 poll workers have taken the course. That’s roughly a third of the county’s Election Day volunteers.

Poll workers lauded the new class, saying it has opened their eyes to the importance of identifying barriers and mitigating them to create accessibility.

“It gave me all of the insight and a different thought process about how we can make voting more accessible for all people,” said Mohsin Ali of San Ramon.

Ali, a poll worker who volunteers at the polling location at the San Ramon Senior Center, says the class gave him a different perspective and will make him more cognizant of items such as sign placement, door pressure and other voter needs.

“The class doesn’t just focus on one class of people, but how we can make all voters comfortable,” Ali said.

Bonita Brewer, who volunteered as a poll worker for the first time in November 2016 at the Pleasant Hill Hope Center, said she appreciated hearing the detailed information about all the measures the Elections Office take to ensure access to the ballot; not just addressing physical disabilities, but also language barriers.

“The class helped me understand why it’s important that doors are kept open and things like that. Before the class, I wouldn’t have thought about what if a kid walks by and shuts the door,” Brewer, a Martinez resident, said. “In June, I know I’m going to be more aware of the polling place environment.”

The Elections Division’s goal is to have at least two poll workers at each of the county’s 278 polling places attend the APPLE class before the June 5th election.

This is a fantastic idea; kudos to Contra Costa for emphasizing the importance of making the people staffing the polls as accessible to voters with disabilities as the physical locations themselves. Thanks, as always to Mindy Moretti of for sharing this with the field.

Have a great weekend, don’t forget to “spring forward,” and stay tuned …

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