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Voting rights groups sue to allow electronic voting for disabled voters


Voting rights groups sue to allow electronic voting for disabled voters

Apr 16, 2024 | 5:27 pm ET
By Henry Redman
Voting rights groups sue to allow electronic voting for disabled voters
The polling place at Village on Park on Madison's South side. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

A group of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to allow voters with disabilities to cast and file absentee ballots electronically. 

The lawsuit argues that every voter in Wisconsin has the right to a secret ballot, however a law against voting electronically denies some voters with disabilities that right because they need an assistant to help read and fill out a traditional paper ballot. 

“Because these voters can vote absentee only by using a paper ballot, they must select an assistant to read and mark their ballot for them,” the lawsuit, filed Tuesday afternoon in Dane County Circuit Court, states. “Doing so forces voters with disabilities to surrender their independence and privacy, share their vote, and trust that their ballot was marked accurately — a surrender of the constitutional right to a secret ballot not demanded of voters without disabilities.”

The suit was brought by Disability Rights Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin as well as four voters with disabilities — two who are blind, one who has cerebral palsy and one with spinal muscular atrophy. 

On several occasions, the WEC has acknowledged that blind and low vision voters have no way of casting an absentee ballot independently under the current system. The lawsuit states because of the failure to correct this, Wisconsin’s voting statutes force voters with disabilities to “relinquish” their constitutional right to a secret ballot in order to exercise their right to vote. 

“Without the ability to cast an absentee ballot in secret, some Wisconsin voters with disabilities may opt to forgo voting altogether, particularly those whose disability creates barriers to in-person voting,” the lawsuit states. “These obstacles are not mere oversights. They are the products of a legislative choice: a choice that unjustifiably protects the rights of voters without disabilities to cast their absentee ballot in secret while requiring some voters with disabilities to surrender that same constitutional right, or forgo the absentee-ballot right altogether.” 

Prior to 2011, municipal clerks were able to distribute electronic absentee ballots by email, but a law passed that year limited that option to only voters in the military and those living overseas. A previous attempt to overturn the law in federal court failed in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, that lawsuit focused on the law’s effect on domestic travelers and students, not voters with disabilities.