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Leonard polling site needs upgrade for disabled voters



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August 31, 2011 - Although there have not been any reported problems by voters in the Village of Leonard accessing the voting booth, the exterior of Rowland Hall, located at 23 E. Elmwood in the Village of Leonard, needs to be upgraded.

A letter from the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service (MPAS), an independent agency designated by the Governor of Michigan to advocate and protect the legal rights of voters with disabilities, notified Addison Township Clerk Pauline Bennett that Rowland Hall was not in complete compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Their letter stated upon reviewing the exterior of Rowland Hall, problems were discovered with parking, doors and sidewalks in front of Leonard's polling location.

"The issues that were cited were the condition of the sidewalk leading from the temporary parking area to the entrance of Rowland Hall," said Village President Mike McDonald. "There is some heaved cement in poor condition due to weatherization in the area."

"Also where the handicapped area is...it had just deteriorated over time and the doors were not handicapped accessible," Addison Township Clerk Pauline Bennett said.

Upon reviewing the letter, Bennett checked the area out herself and confirmed what MPAS was reporting.

"When I went out there, I could see why she cited it and it is in need of repair," Bennett said. "Mike McDonald and the Village have jumped on the bandwagon immediately, as well as the township board, to make sure it is compliant."

McDonald said this was the first time as Village President he was aware there were problems with the polling location. "There have been no indications, at least since the time I had been in office, there was any type of problems or access concerns," he said.

McDonald added it was to his understanding the area had met all requirements on previous inspections.

"Now with the passage of time and seasons, there was some cement heaving and poor conditions created," he said. "We are proceeding on the basis that we are going to address the problems."

In order to fix the problems, Bennett, with cooperation from the Village of Leonard, is pursuing a compliance grant worth up to $18,600 from the state of Michigan under American with Disability Act/Helping America Vote Act.

"It's up to the state to determine how much they are going to award us," Bennett said.

However, McDonald noted the grant was only available to cities and townships and Rowland Hall is currently owned by the Village of Leonard.

The Village of Leonard Council called a special meeting on Tuesday, August 23 to voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution that "authorizes the Village President and Treasurer to cooperate with the Township and issue reimbursement checks" which would be issued for "any expenses not covered in the grant" which include legal fees, special meetings or partial payment of grant funding.

The township board voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution in favor of Bennett applying for the grant at special meeting Aug. 24.

However, the resolution noted "if the grant is denied or if a temporary repair is not approved as accessible by the MPAS or Bureau of Elections or the Village cannot complete the repair project, this resolution authorizes the Township Election Commission to create a new Precinct One location under the Election Law guidelines."

Bennett said a couple of options, such as Leonard Elementary, the Addison Township Fire Station in Leonard or the township offices were being looked at as potential sites for the November election if the repair work was not complete or the polling site was still deemed noncompliant.

"There are other options out there, but the Elections Commission and the (Township) Board would really like to keep it at Rowland Hall," Bennett added.

One option she is exploring is with MPAS.

"The Village of Leonard has a call button on there, so I was thinking...if a call button with a handicapped sign saying 'if you need assistance, press this button' and someone would physically open the door for them and I would purchase a ramp," Bennett said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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