STAUNTON, Va. (News Leader) -- For Lee Ann Kinkade, of Staunton, going to vote on Election Day is magical, she says. She's filled with "bipartisan patriotism" on these days, excited to participate in the nation's democratic process.
But as Kinkade, who's disabled, headed into Gypsy Hill Park Gym on Tuesday to vote in the governor primaries, she instead said she felt "dehumanized" by the treatment she received from one of the poll workers.
With her disability, her hands shake and she isn't able to fill in the bubbles on the paper ballots, she said. There's assistive equipment for this though that makes it possible for disabled voters to make their election selections while keeping their ballots confidential.
Each ward in Staunton is equipped with one of the handheld voting devices, called audio-tactile interfaces, which are compliant with the American Disabilities Act, said Elizabeth Young, vice chairwoman of the Staunton Electoral Board.
Kinkade said that when she requested to use one of these machines though to vote Tuesday, she was met with resistance from a poll worker who allegedly suggested she just have her husband fill out her ballot for her to make things easier. She wasn't willing to waive her right to a secret ballot though, which she's supposed to be assured of under the Help America Vote Act.
"It's the principle," she said. “The secret ballot is a fundamental part of democracy."
Kinkade said she wasn't offered use of the assistive equipment by this same poll worker during the November general election either, and on that day, she "acquiesced" and allowed her husband to fill in her ballot for her because it "was such an important election."
She said she did file a complaint though with the Virginia Department of Elections after that happened and said she received a response back confirming her right to a secret ballot and noting that there was assistive equipment that she should have been allowed to use. Kinkade said the note also assured her that the precinct would address the issue with additional training.
So when she went to the polls on Tuesday, she was not expecting a one and a half hour ordeal, but that's what she said she got with the "disrespectful treatment" she allegedly received from the poll worker.
After agreeing to let her use the assistive voting equipment, Kinkade said things got tense when the poll worker didn't know how to use it and she had trouble figuring out the instruction manual herself. She said the poll worker called her "illiterate" and invaded her personal space as she struggled to figure out how to vote on the machine.
“I may be a lot of things, but illiterate is not one of them," said Kincade, who noted that she has a master's degree in English.
It felt "humiliating," she said, as the scene unfolded and other voters looked on.
“I felt horrible, but I also felt like it would be wrong to back down," Kinkade said.
After Kinkade's November incident, Young said additional training sessions were held for poll workers on how to use the assistive equipment, but that she didn't know if the worker in question had attended the training.
"It's difficult to require that," she said and not all poll workers attend.
She said the poll worker has been "temporarily removed" from his position while the electoral board collects statements from those who were present during the incident and tries to sort out what happened — “all is proceeding as it should," she added.
The electoral board is consulting with the Virginia Department of Elections, as they review and investigate the complaint, chairman Glenn Graves said.
"We are taking this complaint very seriously," he said.
Kinkade said she feels it's important to press this issue because while she's in a healthy relationship with her husband, she knows there are other disabled people out there who are in "abusive" ones.
“I can take it, I can take an hour and a half of public humiliation," she said. "I’m not going to back down, but I worry about other disabled people."
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