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House Bill 556: Voting Accessibility Issue

To:  All Elections Officials
From:  Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections
Date:  February 4, 2008
RE:   House Bill 556: Voting Accessibility Issue

House Bill 556, passed by the 80th Legislature, amended the Texas Election Code by adding Section 61.013, which concerns voting equipment accessibility requirements.  Prior law required every county and political subdivision to provide at least one accessible electronic voting system in each polling place for all elections.

House Bill 556, as passed, relaxes this requirement for certain political subdivisions conducting elections which do not contain a federal office on the ballot.  For elections in which a federal office is not on the ballot, a county or a political subdivision within a county with a population described below that falls in the following 4 categories is not required to meet the strict requirements of Texas Election Code Section 61.012 (a)(1)(c) - use of voting accessible machines in each polling place.

  1. Counties or political subdivisions in a county with a population of less than 2,000 are exempt from the requirement of the use of electronic voting systems.  However a voter with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation by the 21st day before election day with the early voting clerk.* 
  2. Counties or political subdivisions in a county with a population of 2,000 or more but less than 5,000 must provide at least one electronic voting system on election day.  The logical location would be the main early voting clerk’s office.
  3. Counties or political subdivisions in a county with a population of 5,000 or more but less than 10,000 must provide at least one electronic voting system on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance.  The logical location to place the accessible device is the main early voting clerk’s office on election day and the main early voting polling place during early voting.
  4. Counties or political subdivisions in a county with a population of 10,000 or more but less than 20,000 may provide fewer accessible voting stations if they comply with the following: Submit an Application of Undue Burden Status to the Secretary of State showing that compliance with Section 61.012 (a)(1)(c) would cause an undue burden on the political subdivision by increasing the costs associated with the election by at least 25% as compared to the costs of the last general election held by the subdivision before January 1, 2006.

Population is determined by the 2000 Federal Census numbers.

If your political subdivision is located in more than one county and you fall into one of the 4 categories above, you may choose to be considered located in the county that contains the greatest number of registered voters of your subdivision or for each portion of your subdivision located in a different county, to be considered as a separate subdivision.

If your political subdivision will be reducing the number of electronic voting systems, as provided in HB 556, you must 1) provide notice to our office 90 day prior to election day; 2) publish notice in a newspaper of general circulation not later than the 15th day before the start of early voting by personal appearance of the location of each polling place that will contain the electronic voting system; and 3) preclear such change with the U.S. Department of Justice.

*Note: A reasonable accommodation may include providing an audio tape of the ballot for the voter or a template which lays over the ballot which allows a voter with visual impairment to vote independently and in privacy. 

Our office has created the Application of Undue Burden Status (PDF, 111k) and instructions for counties and other political subdivisions and can be accessed on our website: www.sos.state.tx.us, or by contacting our office for a copy.  Please note that if your entity wishes to apply for this reduction for the upcoming May 10, 2008 General Election, the deadline to submit an application is February 11, 2008 (Monday).  You are not required to use the form prescribed by our office.  For more information please contact the Elections Division at 1-800-252-VOTE(8683).

Attachment: Application of Undue Burden Status (PDF, 111k)