County Clerk Mary Brown at work in her office at the courthouse.
With May 2nd primary and school board elections quickly approaching, Clay County Clerk Mary Brown is working to ensure polling places in the county are accessible to disabled voters.
Brown has undertaken the task of personally inspecting as many of the 22 polling places in Clay County as she can, armed with evaluations of each facility compiled by the state in May 2004. Though several voting locations in the county fail to meet the standards of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Brown said polling facilities in Clay County have proven adequate-- if not ideal-- in past elections.
"Overall, I think ours are not as bad as a lot of others," she said, adding that she has received no complaints from disabled voters during her tenure. "But in rural communities, it's tougher."
A number of the county's smaller communities lack the kind of facility that would qualify as a HAVA-approved polling place, Brown said. Most of the county's 22 voting locations are situated in volunteer firehouses or church facilities, often the largest and most accessible structures in sparsely populated areas of southern Clay County.
But according to state evaluations, many of these facilities lack the amenities necessary to accommodate handicapped voters, including paved walkways and drop-off zones, handicapped parking signs and adequately-sized doorways.
The State of Indiana has offered counties the use of parking cones, temporary parking signs, ramps and a host of other items to render deficient voting locations temporarily compliant. The temporary aids will arrive in Clay County sometime before the end of March, according to Indiana Secretary of State Communications Director A.J. Feeney-Ruiz.
But permanent compliance means costly renovations, an impossibility in fiscally challenged Clay County. The county purchased voting machines in early 2004 at a cost of $297,850 to meet a separate HAVA compliance guideline, and has yet to recoup the expense through state grants.
For Mary Brown, that means making do with the resources at hand.
"We're going to try to get as many of them up to par as we can," she said. "We've always gotten along fine before this."