Voting lines

Voters lines UP to vote at Pembroke Lakes Elementary in Pembroke Pines on November 6, 2012. Staff photo/Cristobal Herrera Sun-Sentinel (Cristobal Herrera / Sun Sentinel / November 6, 2012)

Broward and Palm Beach County voters can rest easy. Elections supervisors in the two counties say they won’t implement the restroom ban imposed by Miami-Dade County.

In the state’s most populous county, voters who need to go while waiting to vote aren’t allowed to do so.

The media office at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department didn’t respond to a request for information about the rule. But it’s detailed by county officials in email exchanges with a disability rights lawyer.

“It’s absolutely stunning,” said Marc  Dubin director of advocacy for the Center for Independent Living of South Florida, which serves people with disabilities in Miami-Dade County. He’s a former senior trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he was responsible for ADA enforcement.


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“It is a current policy of the Department of Elections. It’s in effect right now,” Dubin said.

It is not a policy in the state’s second- and third-most populous counties, said Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. “Anybody who’s at that site is able to come in and use the bathroom,” Bucher said.

Snipes and Bucher are both elected. In Miami-Dade County, the supervisor of elections is an appointed official who is one of the county mayor’s department heads.

Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department implemented the restroom denial policy for everyone after advocates for the disabled sought to ensure that all polling place facilities were accessible to people with disabilities.

A Feb. 14, 2014 email from Assistant County Attorney Shanika Graves states that “the [Elections] the Department’s policy is not to permit access to restrooms at polling sites on election days. Restrooms are open to voters during early voting because early voting is held at public facilities. However, public and private facilities are used as polling sites on election days.  Private facilities are governed by private landlords, not the County. This policy was implemented to avoid situations where accessible restrooms would be available to some, but not all voters.”

A deputy supervisor of elections, John Mendez, told Dubin in an Aug. 1, 2013, email that “in in order to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not treated unfairly, the use of rest rooms by the Voters is not allowed on election day.”

Dubin was one of several witnesses at a March 31 hearing of the National Commission on Voting Rights. The hearing, at the University of Miami, was sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under law.

He used the hearing to detail the policy and how it came about.

Before the 2012 elections, Dubin said asked questions about the accessibility of polling places to people with disabilities.

 “That conversation took place with the county on multiple occasions, and they asserted that they were on top of it and polling places were accessible to people with disabilities,” he said. “I was concerned that they had not focused any attention on restrooms, in part because the restrooms are not generally thought of as a big issue if the lines for voting are not long.”

He said his objective was to get the county to check the restrooms and make arrangements for locations where they weren’t accessible.

Though many people vote in government buildings, such as schools and libraries, many polling places are in churches, mosques, temples and other religious sites that are exempt from provisions of the American Disabilities Act.

Even though religious facilities aren’t covered, Dubin said the government has to make sure that a public activity such as voting takes places at accessible sites. He said accommodations could include accessible portable restrooms.

Dubin and the county officials’ emails said the Miami-Dade County decided to deal with any potential problem by denying restroom access to everyone.

“Their result is that everyone, even those without a disability, even those voting at a facility that has a restroom that is accessible, will not be allowed to use it,” Dubin said.

In written testimony for the hearing, Dubin said the decision to close restrooms would “undoubtedly reduce the number of voters casting a vote on Election Day, and will significantly further reduce the ability of voters with mobility disabilities to participate in the electoral process…. How many voters, when learning that there is no restroom available, will simply choose not to vote?”

Leon Russell, the immediate past president of the Florida conference of NAACP branches, vice chairman of the national NAACP board of directors and chairman of the Florida voting hearing, said he was troubled by the restroom rule.

“The bathroom is a universal need. It doesn’t go away because you’re about to cast a ballot.”