A voter on bicycle drops off their ballot at a drive through drop-off for absentee ballots in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Four Wisconsin voters with disabilities filed a lawsuit last week in federal court seeking to ensure they can have someone else return their absentee ballots for them after a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision earlier this month banned the practice.
The voters, who all have mobility issues because of their disability, allege that the Supreme Court decision violates the federal Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Without ballot-return assistance, many voters with disabilities, including Plaintiffs, would be unable to access Wisconsin’s absentee-voting program, rendering this statutorily provided method of voting unavailable to qualified voters with disabilities, even while it would remain available to other Wisconsin voters,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit, filed by progressive legal organization Law Forward on behalf of Timothy Carey, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy; Martha Chambers who is paralyzed from the neck down; Scott Luber, who has muscular dystrophy; and Mike Reece, who has cerebral palsy, details all the ways in which voting on their own is an insurmountable obstacle for the voters.
Carey, Chambers and Luber do not have the use of their hands, making it impossible for them to mark, seal and return their ballots. Reece can no longer travel to his polling place, which isn’t accessible, so his wife returns his absentee ballot for him.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that absentee ballot drop boxes aren’t allowed under state law. In its decision, the court’s majority wrote that it wasn’t going to say whether or not voters are allowed to have someone else return their ballot to a local municipal clerk, but Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe recently said in a press conference that voters must return their own ballots.
The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a right-wing legal organization, after months of Republican attacks on the voting methods. High profile Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have alleged, without evidence, that absentee ballot drop boxes are rife with fraud and recast ballot return assistance as a nefarious action known as “ballot harvesting.”
The attacks on these voting methods came as Republicans searched for any pretext under which they could challenge the results of the 2020 presidential election.
But advocates for people with disabilities have warned for months that the inability to have someone else provide “ballot return assistance” is disenfranchising for Wisconsinites who are unable to leave their home or pull down the handle on a mailbox.
The lawsuit does not seek to overturn the state court’s ruling on drop boxes, but does continue the fight over how voting is conducted in a key battleground state just weeks before the August 9 primary. Absentee ballots for the primary have been going out for weeks and early voting began on Tuesday.
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