The Washington Post

Disabled voters sue after Wis. court limits how absentee ballots can be cast

Plaintiffs say new regimen violates their rights

- BY PATRICK MARLEY

MADISON, WIS. — Four disabled people are asking a federal judge to ensure they can vote this fall after the Wisconsin Supreme Court limited how absentee ballots can be cast.

In a 4-3 ruling this month, the state’s high court ruled that voters could not give their completed absentee ballots to someone else to turn in for them.

That policy will make it impossible or extremely difficult for some voters to cast ballots, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in a federal court in Madison.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to allow disabled voters to give their ballots to others to return for them, arguing that the new regimen in Wisconsin violates the U.S. Constituti­on, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabiliti­es Act.

The lawsuit reignites a dispute over how ballots are returned in a battlegrou­nd state in the run-up to elections for governor and U.S. senator. Absentee ballots have already been sent to voters for the Aug. 9 primaries.

The state Supreme Court ruling from this month also banned the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. The lawsuit does not seek to overturn that part of the decision.

Instead it focuses on part of the ruling that found voters can turn in only their own ballots when they visit an election clerk’s office.

Supporters of the decision said that part of the ruling would help prevent what they dismiss as “ballot harvesting,” in which partisan groups pick up ballots from voters and turn them over to election officials.

Critics argued that the ruling went too far because it prevents someone from returning the ballots of their family members when they turn in their own.

Those who filed Friday’s lawsuit said the high court’s ruling is dire for them and will prevent them from voting.

Among those bringing the lawsuit is Timothy Carey, who is unable to move his body because he has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Visiting the polls in person is extremely difficult for him because he requires the use of a ventilator and other medical equipment. It’s also dangerous for him because his immune system would have difficulty fighting off the coronaviru­s.

Carey, who has voted absentee for more than three decades, can’t place his own ballot in the mail or turn it in to a clerk because he doesn’t have the use of his hands.

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a preliminar­y ruling in March limiting how absentee ballots could be returned, Carey said he was furious.

While the state Supreme Court ruling said voters could not give their ballots to someone else to turn in for them in person, it did not address whether they could have someone else place them in the mail for them. But days after the ruling, the director of the state elections commission, Meagan Wolfe, told reporters that “the voter is the one required to mail their ballot.”

The lawsuit argues that stance makes it impossible for Carey and the others who brought the lawsuit to vote.

“Now Plaintiffs are faced with an impossible, and unlawful, choice: Abstain from voting altogether or risk that their ballots will be invalidate­d, or that their only available method to vote absentee (ballot-return assistance) could subject them to prosecutio­n,” their attorney, Scott Thompson, wrote in the lawsuit.

Carey and the others brought their lawsuit with the help of Law Forward, a liberal nonprofit law firm based in Madison focused on voting rights. The group represente­d Disability Rights Wisconsin and other groups in the lawsuit before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Attorney General Josh Kaul (D), who is defending the state elections panel, argued in a statement that state law allows voters to have someone else put their ballots in the mail for them. “Every eligible voter in Wisconsin should be able to cast a ballot,” he said.

 ?? Taylor Glascock FOR The Washington Post ?? An election worker sorts through ballots during a recount of Milwaukee County’s results on Nov. 20, 2020. A new lawsuit has reignited a dispute over how ballots are returned in Wisconsin.
Taylor Glascock FOR The Washington Post An election worker sorts through ballots during a recount of Milwaukee County’s results on Nov. 20, 2020. A new lawsuit has reignited a dispute over how ballots are returned in Wisconsin.

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