Voting is a right for Americans, but a pair of Misericordia University professors found that for some registered voters, just getting into their polling place is a battle in itself.
Melissa Sgroi, communications department chair, and Dan Kimbrough, assistant professor of communications, set out on Election Day with a video camera to see just how easy a physically handicapped person would have it getting into their polling place. What they found was worse than they imagined.
We were shocked, Sgroi said.
All five polling places they went to on Nov. 6 – one in Scranton, two in Wilkes-Barre, one in Dallas and one in Dallas Township – had deficiencies outside the polling place itself.
Each of them had barriers, Kimbrough said.
The result is a 15-minute documentary that will be screened Wednesday night on the Misericordia University campus in Dallas Township.
Lack of handicapped parking was noted at several locations. Others had on-street parking but no sidewalk cuts to allow wheelchairs access.
The Dallas Borough Building has stairs leading to the polling place, and though there is a back entrance, there was no signage or parking to access it.
At Meyers High School, the same situation was noted and, Sgroi noted, the side entrance that was handicapped-accessible was locked, Sgroi said.
GAR High School had a 2-inch lip at the door that made it difficult for a wheelchair to cross.
I have to assume if we went to more places we would have found more barriers, Sgroi said.
While the pair didn't set out to create an expose, they were able to view and record things they believe need addressing before the May 21 primary election.
This wasn't a gotcha piece, Kimbrough said. It's a conversation starter that we need to have.
While meeting the needs of disabled voters once they got into the polling place was something judges of elections were prepared for, nobody thought to ask about getting to the door, said Kimbrough, who shot the video.
Sgroi said election-bureau officials in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties were contacted, and both declined to speak on camera regarding the movie. A call placed to Marisa Crispell-Barber, the director of the Luzerne County bureau, on Monday was not immediately returned.
We hope this video sheds light on barriers to voting for people with disabilities because this is a form of disenfranchisement that has not been widely reported or, to my knowledge, reported at all, Sgroi said. We do hope this story provides education so people will notice barriers and take action to resolve them and enable all citizens to participate in the democratic process, which is a right, not a privilege.
To see a preview of the movie, visit http://vimeo.com/57074642
A special screening of the documentary Vote will be shown at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the McGowan Room of the Mary Kintz Bevevino Library on the campus of Misericordia University in Dallas Township. A question-and-answer discussion will follow.