• The Star Staff

Ombudsman calls on SEC to protect vote of those with disabilities


By John McPhaul

jpmcphaul@gmail.com


Gabriel E. Corchado Méndez, the interim ombudsman for people with disabilities (DPI by its Spanish initials), called on the new chairman of the State Elections Commission (SEC), Judge Francisco Rosado Colomer, on Thursday to ensure that officials do not commit the same mistakes in the Nov. 3 general elections that the DPI documented during last month’s primaries, in which citizens with disabilities were inhibited in their access to voting.


“During the primaries, and fulfilling our ministerial duty, our personnel from the Program for the Protection and Advocacy of Voting Access [PAVA] confirmed the absence of the voting system by telephone [Vote by Phone] and the templates in Braille language in the voting centers,” Corchado Méndez said. “In fact, the SEC sent the briefcase that had the templates in Braille language and the equipment for the telephone vote to the Permanent Registration Boards [JIPs by their Spanish initials], which is not the place where the voters go [to vote].”


PAVA Program Coordinator Gabriel Esterrich Lombay added that “we have to work as a team so that non-compliance problems are not repeated in the general elections.”


The SEC has a duty to comply with Section 301, 3 (b) of the Help America Vote Act, Esterrich Lombay said, noting that the law establishes the requirement of the “use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system or another voting system equipped for people with disabilities in each polling station.”


Esterrich Lombay reminded voters with disabilities that the deadline to request early voting is this Monday, Sept. 14, at the JIPs of each municipality.


“There are several categories that facilitate the vote of voters with disabilities, such as being blind, having limited mobility, or being bedridden, or with some type of medical condition that prevents them from going to their polling station, or any voter 80 years of age or older,” he said. “It also includes the category of voter in the House of Accommodation and Sole Caregiver voter that includes that voter who is the only person available in the nuclear family of his or her domicile for the care of minors under 14 years of age, of people with disabilities or who are sick and bedridden at home. All these categories allow voters to vote preferentially in three ways, by mail, at home and at the Easy Access polling place.”


Corchado Méndez invited voters with disabilities to visit the JIPs and demand to use the express line and priority shifts, as agreed to under former SEC Chairman Ernesto Dávila, given the prospect of potential lines and the closing of voter registration on Sept. 14.


“It is important to let polling station officials know that voting by telephone must be located in the Easy Access polling places, with the rest of the accommodations available for voters with disabilities, which include templates in Braille language and magnifying glasses, among others,” Corchado Méndez said.


It is crucial that such voting places be accessible without steps, with an accessible route on a smooth surface from the reserved parking lot to the polling place, Corchado Méndez noted. If there is no reserved parking, polling station officials are required, in coordination with the police, to create a temporary space for the event.


“What we seek is that the process be accessible to voters with disabilities,” he said. “Any voter with a disability who experiences a problem with the electoral process can contact 787-725-2333 and ask about the PAVA Program, by email at gesterrich@dpi.pr.gov, brivera1@dpi.pr.gov, or at the SEC at 787-777-8682 or online at ceepur.org.”

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