A group of disabled voters filed a lawsuit last week against authorities in Wisconsin over a recent ruling from the state Supreme Court that the only person who can return a voter’s ballot in-person is that voter.
The federal case says the change in procedures for returning absentee ballots in Wisconsin violates pieces of federal law including the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. The state Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t address who can return absentee ballots through the mail, but if there’s reason for allowing other voters to essentially freely access — within the parameters of the law — multiple options for returning absentee ballots, then why not disabled voters in Wisconsin? There’s no legitimate evidence of any kind of real-world issue necessitating the rules change. “Federal law guarantees that voters with disabilities enjoy full and equal access to state voting programs and thus that they are entitled to ballot-return assistance,” the case insists.
The federal court case targets authorities including the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and those behind it hope to re-establish the allowance for caregivers and family members to help disabled voters with returning absentee ballots to the extent previously permitted. The New York Times spoke with one of the plaintiffs in the new case, 49-year-old Timothy Carey, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and indicated he “had voted absentee for 30 years, enlisting the help of a nurse or his parents to return his ballot,” the publication recaps. Carey’s medical condition means he’s reliant on a ventilator and can’t use his hands. “I think that is shortsighted to not at least think about people with disabilities,” he said. “They’re not thinking about us.”
There’s another potential serious issue too: uncertainty. Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the elections commission, recently erroneously stated: “As of right now, the voter is the one who is required to mail their ballot.” It’s apparently actually just returning one’s ballot in-person the individual voter themselves is required to do, and Wolfe later put out a clarification, but clearly, there’s a chance for confusion among both officials and residents. One could also imagine that a haze of confusion around the process of returning absentee ballots in Wisconsin could be used as a pretext by officials or outside observers to go after perfectly innocent voters. The Wisconsin state Supreme Court also recently ruled against the usage of most drop boxes for mail-in ballots in the state, which led to self-confident proclamations from Trump it was supposedly clear he’d won the state in 2020 — but the court’s conclusions didn’t prove such a thing, and it’s unclear the Justices even tried to, beyond vague gestures towards conspiracy theories.