COLUMBUS, Ohio — By the time Margaret Smith arrived atSouthmoor Middle School, she was exhausted, damp, and cranky. She had spent two hours waiting in her wheelchair at MohlerElementary School, the wrong polling site.
She sat in the front seat of CindyLytle’s SUV with her wheelchair collapsed in the rear. Smith’s desire to return home was written all over herperson.
Her gray wig was slightly disheveled, thelines in her cheeks gravitated down to a frown, and her eyes lookedlike hopeless brown pools.
If the election officials could bring her aprovisional ballot along with a sample ballot of the candidates,she would be able to salvage the afternoon spent at the wrongpolling site.
Smith was one of countless voters who battledcold, rainy weather and mobility issues at Columbus pollingsites. The sites were housed at public schools, recreationcenters and churches—all locations that should be “handicapaccessible,” yet Smith and others discovered the label andthe reality are two different entities.
Indeed the middle school was”handicap-accessible,” but no election official couldtear themselves away from the polls since there were at least 100voters and a six-person staff. Smith, 72, doubted whether shehad the strength to wait another two hours all over again. She did not feel well and she had not even worn the proper footwearout of the house.
Lytle, a neighbor, volunteered to help Smithwith her dilemma and even drove her to the correct pollingplace.
“I met her about two hours ago,”Lytle said. “She [Smith] intended to get an absenteeballot, but she moved in March and never got around toit.”
After waiting for nearly an hour in theparking lot with Lytle, James E. Prince and Al Wilson, volunteersfrom the Election Protection campaign sponsored by People for theAmerican Way, hoisted Smith into her wheelchair and began thejourney to the school’s auditorium where a provisional ballotwould be set up for her.
However, when they stood before the entranceto the auditorium, the trio was greeted by metal partition dividedthe doorway into two narrow spaces.
The spaces were so narrow, Smith’swheelchair would not clear it. Wilson, who is a lawyer inWashington, D.C., unscrewed the partition and helped wheel Smithdown the ramp.
County boards of elections across the nationchoose polling sites that are accessible to all citizens, yet olderfacilities like many of the school buildings in Columbus areoutdated by the standards of accessibility.
“There’s only so much we cando,” said Anita Jones, presiding judge at Southmoor. “I cannot bring the ballot to her since she would not be ableto see the candidates she is voting for.”
Yet advocates like Lytle, who used her owntime and resources to help Smith said something needs to be done bythe next election.
Some handicapped voters like MissouriWilliams, 74, said that though she cannot walk well, she did nottrust the absentee ballot.
“I wanted to come down to the pollsmyself,” she said, after waiting two hours to vote.
Since she had already received an absenteeballot and did not bring it with her to the polls, she had to voteon the provisional ballot.
“She has no proof that she did not fillout the form,” Jones said. “We can only let hervote provisional.”
Although officials said there were no plans inthe works to standardize polling sites among aging facilities,community members like Smith and Williams agree something needs tobe done.
When she had cast her ballot, Smith sighedwith relief.
“I’m glad it’s over. That was almost like having surgery,” she said.