DALLAS TWP. – The chairman of the Luzerne County Board of Elections was among the audience members at a Wednesday night screening of a documentary that brought to light handicap accessibility problems at the area's polling sites, and he was grateful for the revelation.
H. Jeremy Packard, an adjunct professor of history at Misericordia University, who was seated in the front row, introduced himself to the crowd about 10 minutes into a question-and-answer session that followed the screening of Vote – a 15-minute-long film produced by two other professors at the university.
I also happen to be … the chair of the election board of Luzerne County, Packard said. He explained that the board oversees the election bureau, which consists of eight full-time employees.
I just wanted to say on behalf of the board that I think this is a terrific thing that has been done, Packard said.
Packard hopes bureau director Marisa Crispell-Barber can use the film as a training tool for judges of elections and poll workers before the next election, he said.
Melissa Sgroi, chair of the communications department, and Dan Kimbrough, assistant professor of communications, set out on Election Day with a video camera to see how easy – or how hard – it would be for a physically disabled person to get into his or her polling place.
We were shocked, Sgroi said.
All five polling places they visited on Nov. 6 – one in Scranton, two in Wilkes-Barre, one in Dallas and one in Dallas Township – had deficiencies that could hamper or prevent a person in a wheelchair from entering the polling places.
While Crispell-Barber and officials from the Lackawanna County Department of Elections declined to appear in or provide comment for the documentary, the judges of elections at each of the polling sites did; they answered questions posed by the professors and agreed that deficiencies existed.
I would be perfectly willing to admit on behalf of the board and the bureau that they did not receive that good instruction about handicap access, Packard said. We have a lot of work to do on educating our voting personnel – and that requires mandatory training sessions, which we haven't had in recent memory. He said training in the past has been voluntary.
Crispell-Barber, who was Wyoming County's voter education director and voting machine administrator at the time and on-loan to Luzerne County only since Oct. 2, wanted to have mandatory training sessions before the November election, but there wasn't enough time, Packard said.
Crispell-Barber began helping out Luzerne County a week after interim election director Tom Pizano unexpectedly retired near the end of September. She was hired full-time by Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawson on Dec. 10.