Four Wisconsin voters with disabilities filed a lawsuit last week against the Wisconsin Elections Commission over guidance that other people may not help a voter place an absentee ballot in the mail.
The lawsuit says that, by not allowing voters with disabilities to have some assistance in casting their ballot, the Elections Commission violates several federal protections laws, as well as both their first and fourteenth amendment rights.
Scott Thompson is staff counsel with Law Forward, a nonpartisan and nonprofit legal firm, and is representing the voters in the case. He says that the lawsuit aims to clarify current absentee voting laws.
“Voters with disabilities here in Wisconsin deserve clarification. It is important that they feel secure in the bedrock civil rights protections of their right to vote. These protections include reasonable accommodations at their polling places, but it also includes assistance from a third party so they can cast their ballot,” Thompson says.
The lawsuit points to the Voting Rights Act, which requires that all voters with disabilities may have assistance voting.
Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that public entities must not have any policies that interfere with a disabled person’s vote.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court, and Thompson says they are looking for two main results.
“We are asking to court to enjoin the elections commission from prohibiting this ballot return assistance, and we are also asking the court to declare that these voters are entitled to use ballot return assistance when they cast their absentee ballots,” Thompson says.
The lawsuit revolves around a comment made by Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, saying that voters could only turn in their own absentee ballots.
Wolfe made that statement in a press conference after a state Supreme Court ruling in an elections case earlier this month. The court found that the use of absentee ballot dropboxes is illegal, and that absentee ballots that are handed to clerks in-person must be done by the voter. The court did not come to a conclusion on placing an absentee ballot in the mail.
The Election Commission later clarified that Wolfe’s statement was not a policy statement, and instructed voters to consult their local election clerk.
Thompson says that, even if they can’t sue the state of Wisconsin over the rules, they are still able to find relief.
“Here, the state agency is exposed because of the comments that Meagan Wolfe made, and that she herself has not retracted. She said that people need to mail their own ballot, which is further than even the Supreme Court was willing to go,” Thompson says.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission could not be reached for comment by airtime.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are four Wisconsin residents with disabilities, all of whom require assistance in delivering their ballot.
Timothy Carey, one of those plaintiffs, lives in Appleton and has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Unable to move his hands, Thompson says that Carey is physically unable to vote without assistance.
“Their disabilities are such that they can’t physically place their ballot in the mail, or they can’t physically hand it over to the clerk. Most importantly, that is the only way these voters can vote, they can’t actually go to the polling place on election day. As a result, these new rules, or this confusion that has been created in our voting ecosystem, really threatens their right to vote,” Thompson says.
The next election is the partisan primary election on August 9. The fall general election takes place on November 8.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT Flickr
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