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Newton County woman in wheelchair says she couldn't vote because she couldn't park

She said she had to go to another polling location after the one closest to her home had no handicapped parking two days in a row.

COVINGTON, Ga. — A Newton County woman said she struggled to make her voice heard during early voting and had to take three trips to the polls to actually cast her ballot. 

Early voting ended Friday. Though election signs still remain at the Turner Lake Senior Center, for Kathleen Lowde, she said her aggravation will last longer.

“I feel like this is a really important election. I was excited we had the early voting," Lowder said.

That excitement soon turned into frustration when she couldn't cast her ballot.

“All the handicapped parking spots were taken," Lowder explained.

Her life changed 30 years ago when she suffered a spinal cord injury and she had to use a wheelchair. Lowder said she drove around the senior center looking for somewhere to park.

“At one point, another car with a handicapped tag got in front of me, and she pulled over and parked," Lowder said. 

Lowder said she pulled behind that car at the front of the building.

“I got the base of my chair out, and before I could do anything else, the officer came up and said, ‘You can’t park here,’” Lowder said. 

Lowder made a Facebook live video, and in it, she alleges a Newton County Sheriff's deputy physically blocked her from voting. 

“I went back the next day, and all the same six cars were parked in the handicapped spots," Lowder said. 

She then drove 40 minutes roundtrip to another early voting location. 

“At the church, it had one handicap spot," Lowder said. "I want to be able to live a normal life and go vote when I need to. It’s really frustrating because it’s hard enough to get around in a wheelchair. Then for it to take three times for me to park and vote -- it’s just not acceptable.”

Lowder hopes sharing her story can resolve voting issues for those with disabilities in the future.

“They need to be able to make accommodations for people to be able to vote that are handicapped," Lowder said. "I can’t imagine what’s going to happen Tuesday.”

The Newton County Board of Elections did not return multiple messages for comment. 11Alive also reached out to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. They provided us the following statement on Tuesday:

“Deputy sheriffs are stationed at the voting precincts for security and traffic control. Sheriff Ezell Brown has no reason to believe a deputy sheriff would interfere with a person's right to vote.”

Any voter who is 75 years old or older, or who is disabled and requires assistance in voting, is allowed to vote immediately at the next available booth without having to wait in line, according to state codes.

The Secretary of State's Office advises voters with disabilities who struggle with accessibility should contact their county elections office if accommodations aren't made. People can also contact the Secretary of State’s office at 404-656-2871 or (V/TTY) 656-1787 for additional assistance. 

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