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Judge allows disabled voters in Wisconsin to electronically vote from home

Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell listens to legal arguments during Monday’s court hearing about e-mailed absentee ballots for people with disabilities. Mitchell may rule as soon as Tuesday, June 25, 2024.
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WisconsinEye
Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell listens to legal arguments during Monday’s court hearing about e-mailed absentee ballots for people with disabilities. Judge Mitchell is allowing disabled voters in the crucial swing state to vote electronically from home this fall.

Local election officials in battleground state Wisconsin will be allowed to send absentee ballots to disabled voters electronically in November's presidential election, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell issued a temporary injunction that allows voters who self-certify that they can't read or mark a paper ballot without help to request absentee ballots electronically from local clerks. The voters can then cast their ballots at home using devices that help them read and write independently. They will still be required to mail the ballots back to the clerks or return them in person, the same as any other absentee voter in the state.

The injunction is part of a larger lawsuit that Disability Rights Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters and four disabled voters filed in April.

Attorneys for Disability Rights Wisconsin argued in favor of bringing back the emailed ballots during a court hearing on Monday, June 24, 2024.

Lawyer Erin Deeley said the change would help ensure the voters’ right to privacy.

“And there is good reason for this right. It protects our democracy and removes risks of intimidation, ridicule, bribery, and other corrupt and anti-democratic pressures. These concerns aren’t historic relics for our clients. In our initial brief, one voter related the experience of being pressured at least three different times by poll workers to change his vote," Deeley told Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell.

Deeley said due to shortages of caregivers, people with disabilities sometimes have caregivers who are relatively unknown to them. She said adaptive computer technology would allow the voter to fill out an emailed ballot without help.

Atty. Erin Deeley (light-colored suit) listens during Monday's court hearing.
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WisconsinEye
Atty. Erin Deeley (light-colored suit) listens during Monday's court hearing.

But Asst. State Attorney General Karla Keckhaver, representing the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said election clerks would face more confusion about who is eligible to get the ballots.

“It’s clerks having to decide, OK, is this person in the category of people to whom I can send a ballot electronically without violating the law?” Keckhaver said.

Keckhaver also said the plan would make it harder for clerks to run elections with uniformity and fairness.

Disability Rights Wisconsin said it can’t estimate how many voters would be requesting the absentee ballots. But with hundreds of thousands of state residents technically classified as disabled, due to various mental and physical challenges, and with more close elections expected in November, the group says it wants to give every adult the chance to cast a ballot.

Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye.

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