Voting

Campaign signs line the Panola County Courthouse parking lot in Carthage during early voting in the March primaries.

Election websites in Upshur and Panola counties are among 80 in the state named in a federal complaint filed earlier this month by the nonprofit group Disability Rights Texas.

The complaint said voting websites in the counties failed to comply with federal laws because they did not offer equal access to people with disabilities, according to Disability Rights Texas.

Officials in Panola County say the county’s election website has been updated, and they are working to improve accessibility after being made aware of the complaint.

Multiple messages left over several days with the Upshur County Elections Office were not returned.

Disability Rights Texas issued a report in July that said many county voting websites were out of compliance with federal laws because of a lack of voting information and accessible features — meaning people with disabilities were failing to receive the same voting information as people without disabilities.

The organization notified counties in a letter and asked for their response. Many, including Panola, did not respond before the complaint was filed.

“Texas is facing unprecedented challenges during the 2020 election cycle,” said Molly Broadway, voting rights training specialist for Disability Rights Texas. “The pandemic has increased our use of and dependence on digital information. Now more than ever, providing equal access to the voting process for people with disabilities through county websites must become a priority.”

Panola County Judge LeeAnn Jones notified Disability Rights Texas recently that the county would be making changes to its website based on the information provided, including adding links to state voting guide information and information about available curbside voting in Panola County during early voting and on Election Day.

“These items will fulfill the things we can change,” Jones said. “As far as the visual stuff, our website people will have to do that part.”

Panola County had scored 16% on Disability Rights Texas’ election website accessibility assessment. That assessment, conducted by multiple people of varying abilities, looked at:

Whether documents are only posted in PDF or image-based formats while excluding alternative text-based formats that are the most compatible with assistive technologies;

Having audio descriptions and captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing; and

Allowing voters to be able to choose the color and font sizes, which helps voters with low vision see webpage content.

The review also looked for fully-accessible election-related information for sample ballots, curbside voting, ballot-by-mail, right to interpreters and use of voting machine auxiliaries.

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— Panola Watchman Editor Meredith Shamburger contributed to this report.