Campaign signs line the Panola County courthouse parking lot during early voting in the March 2020 primaries.

Panola County has updated its election website and is working to improve accessibility after it was made aware of a federal complaint filed by Disability Rights Texas earlier this month.

The complaint included more than 80 counties in Texas, including Panola, whose voting websites were failing to comply with federal laws because they did not offer equal access to people with disabilities.

It followed a report issued by the group in July, showing that 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 that people without disabilities were receiving.

The group 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 DRTx. “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 this week that the county would be making changes to its website based on the information they provided, including adding links to state voting guide information and stated information about available curbside voting in Panola County during early voting and on Election Day.

“These items will fulfill the things we can change,” she wrote. “As far as the visual stuff, our website people will have to do that part. By adding these items, and making a call to our web host about the visual requirements, I believe a letter sent to disability rights stating this, will make them happy.”

Panola County had scored 16 percent on Disability Rights Texas’s 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
  • 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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Meredith Shamburger serves as the regional editor for Carthage and Kilgore. She has previously worked at the Longview News-Journal, the Marshall News Messenger and The Dallas Morning News. Meredith graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2011.