Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) chairs a committee meeting in October 2019. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)
City of Racine officials and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) are in an election week dispute over how absentee ballots can be returned.
The City of Racine, on a voter assistance website, has stated that ballots can be returned by someone who is not the voter. Wanggaard has said this opinion violates a January court order from a Waukesha County judge that delivering someone else’s ballot is illegal.
Wanggaard has taken to publicly accusing officials of breaking the law.
“The city of Racine is willfully ignoring state law when it comes to absentee ballots,” Wanggaard said in a statement. “Under the current law, you can’t return someone else’s ballot. It’s that simple. Racine is encouraging illegal ballot harvesting, pure and simple.”
Racine Clerk Tara Coolidge told the Racine Journal-Times that the court order violates federal laws and she won’t be the person to disadvantage voters with disabilities who rely on assistance from others to cast their ballot.
“The City of Racine is accepting absentee ballots in person from the voter, or an agent or authorized representative of the voter,” Coolidge said in an email to the Journal-Times. “Those returning absentee ballots in person have been asked to answer if they are the voter or an agent or authorized representative of the voter, if they state no they have been turned away and the ballot was not accepted.”
The federal Voting Rights Act states that “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”
Advocates for people with disabilities have said that the court order prohibiting the return of absentee ballots is disenfranchising. Barbara Beckert, director of Disability Rights Wisconsin’s (DRW) Milwaukee office, told the Wisconsin Examiner late last month that the organization has heard from many voters worried they won’t be able to vote if a spouse or friend can’t return a ballot for them and echoed the opinion of Racine officials.
“We believe under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 208 under the Voting Rights Act, these rights are protected,” she said.
Wanggaard told the Journal-Times that Tuesday’s election isn’t a federal election. On the ballot on Tuesday are only local races, referenda and judicial elections.
Absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
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