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Despite 25% of MI residents being disabled, 84% of Polling Locations in Metro Detroit are NOT accessible

During the 2022 election cycle, Detroit Disability Power–with the support of The Carter Center–audited 261 polling locations across 15 jurisdictions in Southeast Michigan. Polling locations were audited for 4 main criteria:

ID: DDP members pose for a powerful picture holding signs that read Disability Pride
1. An accessible parking area with a clear pathway into the building
3. A fully accessible voter assist terminal (VAT)
2. An accessible entrance into the building
4. An accessible booth for casting paper ballots privately

Our data demonstrates that only 16% of polling locations were fully accessible, having no access barriers or impediments to voting.

Issues and Recommendations
Issue 1) The lack of accessible entrances was the most prevalent impediment for voters with disabilities at the polling places observed. In many instances, the main entrance to the voting site was not immediately apparent. At several sites, the accessible entrance was not the main entry point, and there was no clear signage directing voters with disabilities. At 32 polling sites (14%), entrances had stairs, with no ramps or with ramps that were blocked by parked cars or signage.

Issue 2) Nearly all of the Metro Detroit jurisdictions observed (14 of 15) did not have fully set up, accessible voting booths, making inaccessible voting booths the most widespread issue of the four measures.

Issue 3) Though most polling sites had VATs, many were not in working order. Several VATs displayed error codes, 26 (12%) did not have headphones or the controller plugged in, and one had run out of printing paper, making it unusable.

Issue 4) Most polling places observed had accessible parking and a clear pathway into the voting area. However, in the 40% of polling places where that was not the case, observers noted impediments including cracked, uneven, or impassable sidewalks.
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Image Description: Map of MetroDetroit. Blue pins are placed across the map to indicate a polling site that was audited for accessibility during the 2022 election cycle by Detroit Disability Power and The Carter Center. There are 261 blue pins placed across the map. Dots are located in Detroit, the enclaves of Hamtramck and Highland Park, Harper Woods, and the five Grosse Pointe communities to the east, Dearborn to the west, and the Downriver communities of River Rouge and Ecorse to the southwest – all in Wayne County; the Oakland County city of Southfield; and the Macomb County cities of Warren and Center Line, all on Detroit's northern border.
Key Recommendations:
1) Increase coordination between election management jurisdictions and the state.
2) Clearly label pathways and remove any obstructions.
3) Ensure that poll workers receive training on the voter access terminals (VATs).
4) Centralize training to address inconsistencies in Election Day administration that limit access.
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"We believe that with a coordinated effort between disabled Metro Detroiters, our elected officials, and other election stakeholders, we can improve this unfortunate reality. People with disabilities deserve and demand an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process."

Dessa Cosma, Founding Director of DDP

ID: Dessa joins a rally in Detroit to protect our votes
The Report at a Glance

This report only covers data from November 8th 2022, when all the audits were conducted on Election Day. However, this is the third election cycle in a row that DDP conducts similar research, albeit on a smaller scale.


Out of the 267 polling locations across 15 jurisdictions in MetroDetroit, 261 were audited (98% of all polling locations). Of these 15 jurisdictions, 12 had all their polling locations audited. These 15 jurisdictions account for 1 in 10 Michigan voters, or more than 1 million people.


This research was led by Detroit Disability Power with invaluable support and partnership from The Carter Center.  The 21 trained volunteers from our community that deployed this audit were also instrumental to success.


The audit was centered on the city of Detroit, the state's single largest jurisdiction, along with other municipalities in the metro area. This region is home to approximately 4.9 million people, nearly half of MI's total population of 10 million.


To cultivate data-driven solutions to chronic and preventable voter access issues and, in partnership with elected officials and other election stakeholders, become a model for accessibility. We can and must meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Helping America Vote Act, as well as Michigan election law.


Geographically contiguous jurisdictions allowed the audit team to assign volunteers to areas that crossed municipal or county borders when practical. The team used a digital audit form that included questions found in the report in Appendix C (page 25).


This data aligns with previous, smaller-scale audits of a similar kind that DDP has done in previous election cycles. Additionally, data aligns with the 2017 national average of 17% of polling locations being fully accessible, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

67 of the polling locations only had 1 access barrier or impediment. Correcting that singular issue for each of the 67 locations would bring the percentage of fully accessible voting locations to 42% (from the current 16%). With training and commitment, we can feasibly reach 100% accessibility. Together, we can increase turnout for voters with and without disabilities.
Is there any good news in the data?
ID: two members of DDP attend DanceAbility, an arts program for all bodies and minds that on this day met at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are polling locations inaccessible despite the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Although the ADA mandates accessibility in places of public accommodation, it is seen as an unfunded mandate, as state and local governments may not have adequate resources, support, and knowledge to upgrade inaccessible infrastructure and practices. Therefore, it is not uncommon for election offices nationwide to be out of compliance with ADA requirements.
Will this audit be conducted again?
Yes! We'll be conducting access audits in 2024 for in-person voting during the Primaries and General Election. Our ultimate goal is to arrive at 100% full accessibility of polling sites in Metro Detroit and beyond. We hope our model can be replicated and expanded across the nation so that all citizens can access their right to vote. If you're interested in becoming a certified volunteer in this effort, contact our Community Organizer, NaJaRee Nixon, at
What does State/Federal law say about this?
In Michigan, the requirements for selecting polling places are defined by state and federal law rather than by local officials, unlike many other election administration issues within the legal remit of the state's 1,520 cities and townships. Minimum accessibility requirements of sites used to cast ballots during federal elections are defined in the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – drawing on the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution for their authority.
Why does this matter?
One in four adults in the United States–nearly 25% of the population–has a disability. A full-accessibility rate of only 16% potentially excludes a fourth of the population from the democratic process. Despite federal and state laws, people with disabilities still face significant barriers to full participation in election processes. Polling places in Metro Detroit, which serve 1 million Michiganders, account for 10% of the population. Together, residents and officials, we can set the new standard for an intentional improvement of voter access, redefining history and enshrining our right to vote.

Read the Report

ID: Detroit Disability Power takes to the streets to demand a fair vote. The protestors have signs and hoodies that read Count Every Vote.
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