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      Delaware Law News

      Law Students Survey Polling Places on Election Day

      Law students monitor the polls

      Delaware Law School students used Election Day as an opportunity for a service project that helps disabled voters.
      Eleven law students visited polling places around the First State as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service. Through a partnership with the Community Legal Aid Society's Disabilities Law Program, and with the cooperation of the Delaware Department of Elections, students surveyed the polling places for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

      "I didn't realize how something so simple to me could be such a large obstacle to a person who needs access to voting. We take for granted our abilities every day," student volunteer Jennifer Willis said.

      Willis, a third-year law student, joined fellow student Porsha Scott in visiting about 10 polling places in the Wilmington area. Volunteers attended a training session before Election Day. They filled out surveys that noted things like whether a polling place had accessible parking, and the amount of space between spots. They also checked whether an access ramp was needed, and if it was there, whether there was a clearly marked accessible route into the polling place. In addition, they looked for bumps or steep inclines that would present problems to people with walkers or wheelchairs, measured doorway widths for wheelchair accommodation and more.

      Willis, who volunteered for the project two years ago, said she learned early on to introduce herself to poll workers and let them know why she is there before she begins her survey. "They're excited that we are taking an interest in making sure everyone has access to the polls," she said.

      Students wrote up reports on their findings and submitted them to the Community Legal Aid Society, which follows up where needed. Willis said two years ago there were widespread problems with a lack of signage identifying accessible entranceways. That was significantly improved this year.

      "The direct change was amazing," she said. "It's one thing to help disabled people put groceries into their trunk, it's a whole other thing to make a systematic change."

      Assistant Dean and Public Interest Resource Center Director Nicole Barkley said students who participate in the program earn pro bono credits that count toward the 60 needed to graduate with pro bono distinction.

      "This program, though, is about so much more than hours," she said. "Students see a connection between the law and how it can make a difference for disabled people, particularly in the exercise of their most basic right."


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